Preston North End 2 Reading 3: Dave Seddon's verdict on PNE's first Deepdale defeat for three months

Preston North End have finished a few managers off down the years but never in the circumstances which saw Reading boss Veljko Paunovic sent packing at Deepdale.

By Dave Seddon
Sunday, 20th February 2022, 7:45 am

Paunovic oversaw a first Royals win in 13 matches but between the final whistle and the Serb starting the rounds of post-match interviews, his dismissal was announced.

It had all been finalised on Friday morning, the visit to wintry Lancashire one last dance for Paunovic regardless of the result.

PNE were generous hosts, allowing Reading to look better than their status as the Championship’s fourth bottom side.

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Cameron Archer scores Preston North End's second goal against Reading at Deepdale

One down after 75 seconds, the Lilywhites trailed 2-0 by the 17th minute and were three behind 11 minutes into the second half.

For a side not beaten on their home patch since November 20, it was some flip in form.

Not withstanding their shortcomings on the day, North End weren’t far away from salvaging a point.

Goals from Daniel Johnson and Cameron Archer cut the deficit and had them breathing down Reading’s necks for the closing stages.

Daniel Johnson picks the ball out of the net after scoring PNE's first goal against Reading

Had they found a third goal, you would have had to question whether Ryan Lowe’s men deserved anything from the contest. That’s immaterial, Lowe suffering his first home loss as PNE manager and only a third defeat of his 13-game reign.

Too many players had an off day and by the time some element of improvement came into their play, there was a bit too much to do.

Was this a reality check in some ways for North End?

One defeat in the previous 11 league games had led to talk of a play-off challenge.

PNE goalkeeper Daniel Iversen makes a fine save from Reading striker Lucas Joao

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PNE player ratings: Preston North End 2 Reading 3

That with the same group of players, bar the January additions of Archer and Bambo Diaby, which Lowe inherited in 19th place at the beginning of December.

Perhaps defeat on Saturday and the manner of it showed that there is plenty of work ahead of Lowe in turning his squad into genuine top-six contenders.

However, putting some balance to that argument, Preston still only trail the play-off places by five points.

PNE's Scott Sinclair curls a shot just too high against Reading

So let’s not put a red pen through their chances even after this setback.

What cannot be argued against though, is that North End will have to play a lot better than they did on Saturday if they are to have any say in the play-off race.

It wasn’t only the three goals when Reading opened them up, Paunovic’s now former charges having nine shots on target.

Daniel Iversen did his best to get in the way of the majority and kept the score down enough for North End to make more of a fight of it later on.

To get them playing, it needed three substitutions and a change of formation.

Lowe had made all three of his permitted changes by the 53rd minute which tells you a lot about what we saw.

Liam Lindsay coming on in the 34th minute to allow a switch to a 4-3-3, was the first of the substitutions.

Ryan Ledson joined him on the pitch for the start of the second half, then Ched Evans.

All three made an impact, Lindsay and Evans in particular.

The use of a flat back four had been rare in Lowe’s previous games, just in the Sheffield United draw when PNE fought back from 2-0 to draw 2-2 with 10 men, had he done similar.

Lowe had started with his favoured 3-1-4-2, Scott Sinclair pressed into service at left wing-back.

Sinclair got the nod over Josh Earl who didn’t make the matchday squad, Lowe confirming that had been a tactical move.

Options are thin on that side of the pitch, with Greg Cunningham still a couple of weeks away from a return.

Having Sinclair there didn’t work on this occasion but little worked anywhere on the pitch in the first half-hour or so.

Lowe’s switch to 4-3-3 saw Brad Potts sacrificed. Sepp van den Berg moved out to right-back, Lindsay played next to Patrick Bauer in the middle, with Andrew Hughes at left-back.

Sinclair crossed the field to play on the right side of a front three together with Emil Riis and Archer.

North End were two goals down by this point, Lucas Joao scoring both.

The opener came after a corner which was cleared to the edge of the box where a stray Archer pass gifted the ball back to Reading.

Iversen pushed out John Swift’s low cross then blocked shots from Joao and Michael Morrison before Joao scored at the third time of asking.

Joao ran at the North End back line for the second, went past Bauer and finished with a shot into the top corner.

PNE’s one chance of the first half saw Sinclair wrestle possession on the right and play it inside to Emil Riis.

The Dane had Alan Browne in support but chose to shoot, the ball travelling into the Kop – a section of which Preston supporters occupied for the first time since 2015.

Iversen made three saves early in the second half as the PNE goal lived a charmed life, but was helpless to prevent Reading’s third goal.

Swift came inside off the left-wing, exchanged passes with Joao to take him clear in the box and lift a shot beyond Iversen. PNE responded from the re-start, Ledson pumping the ball forward which was cleared into Evans’ path.

The striker knocked it down into the path of Johnson who motored to the edge of the box and saw his low shot take a big touch off Morrison on its way into the net.

Archer was closer in for the second goal with 15 minutes left, Ledson’s corner flicked across the box by Lindsay.

The ball spun off Alan Browne into the six-yard box, Sinclair having a swing which fell to Archer who took a touch and hit a left-foot shot on the turn into the net.

A couple of half chances came and went but there was to be no equaliser.

The relentless nature of the Championship schedule gives PNE the chance to quickly get this loss out of their system, with Nottingham Forest here on Tuesday.

It goes without saying that a better display is needed – Lowe and the North End faithful will demand it.