Dave Seddon's verdict: Preston North End 0 Reading 2 - Possession and chances count for nothing as PNE left empty-handed
The Christmas homecoming was something of a let down for Preston North End as they once again allowed old nemesis Reading to take the three points.
After successive draws on the road at Cardiff City and Leeds United – both achieved with good displays – there was a feeling that being back at Deepdale would yield three points and see 2019 end on a high note.
It didn’t work out that way, North End 2-0 down inside 16 minutes and then lacking the craft and cutting edge to find a way back.
They were unable to turn 73 per cent possession into any meaningful in terms of goals and hence slipped to a fifth loss on the bounce to the Royals.
That is two seasons on the bounce the Berkshire side have done the double on them, added to a victory late on in the 2017/18 campaign.
PNE’s last win over them came in August 2017 when Alex Neil’s reign was in its infancy.
Things might have been different had Brad Potts put away an early chance when the scoreline was blank.
There might have been a different outcome had some players taken the chance afforded to them.
There was an argument too that a different starting XI might have delivered a better outcome.
All ifs, buts and maybes. The fact is Reading took their chances, PNE didn’t and the points headed south with the visitors.
Not the way then that the Lilywhites envisaged ending 2019 and indeed the decade.
This was only a second home loss in Championship action this season.
The other was earlier in the month against West Bromwich Albion when a controversial late penalty did the damage.
This time there was no such drama or complaint, even if Neil used the ‘smash and grab’ phrase to describe Reading’s win.
The difference was in the boxes. Two of the three shots Reading had on target ended in the net.
Mark Bowen’s men then defended their penalty box solidly enough to shut PNE out.
Of the 21 attempts the home side had, only three of them required goalkeeper Rafael Cabral to stretch himself.
He saved that early Potts shot with his legs then in the second half tipped a shot from Billy Bodin over the bar and smothered a Tom Clarke diving header.
North End lacked a bit of devilment to their play, at times it was a bit too nice with an extra touch.
Neil went with nine of the players who had started at Leeds and come back with a very creditable 1-1 draw on Boxing Day.
Both of the changes came in the front line. David Nugent missed out because of an eye injury sustained at Elland Road.
Tom Barkhuizen was on the bench, their places going to Bodin and Josh Harrop. Neither particularly took their chance.
There had been a clamour for Harrop to start of late but he didn’t particularly get himself into the game.
Bodin too didn’t make the impact hoped.
Him and Harrop played down the side of central pair Potts and Alan Browne – the running 10s.
It was a bit of a surprise to see Paul Gallagher start on the bench, having been an unused substitute at Leeds.
Gallagher was brought on after an hour, Neil explaining post-match that Reading wanting to ‘lock-on’ in midfield would have limited Gallagher’s impact.
The visitors had an elder statesman of their own in midfield in the shape of Charlie Adam.
He helped Reading get on the ball in the centre of the pitch and played his part in the goals.
His Blackpool connections meant he was booed off when substituted in the second half but by then his job was done.
Neil opted for a 4-1-4-1, with Ben Pearson the lone sitter and five in front of him.
The same back four which had shut-out Leeds until the 89th minute was entrusted again, Patrick Bauer again missing through illness.
It meant Tom Clarke got another run at right-back even with Darnell Fisher and Joe Rafferty available again after suspension.
Neil reasoned that he wanted Clarke’s presence at set-plays, with Reading not playing with an out-and-out winger down that side.
How things would have turned out had North End got their noses in front early doors, we will never know.
But it is a safe bet to assume we won’t have the 75 minutes or so of frustration which followed Reading recovering from that let-off and scoring their two goals.
Harrop’s pass played Potts into space in the box, the No.44’s low shot blocked by Cabral with his legs.
The pattern of this season is that when North End go in front, they more often than not got something from it.
That chance for Potts came in the eighth minute and they fell behind four minutes later.
Adam and Ovie Ejaria linked-up to release Tyler Blackett down the left hand side of the box.
His cut back found John Swift who calmly steered a shot past Declan Rudd.
Four minutes later Reading doubled their advantage, another Blackett pass freeing Lucas Joao in the box to shoot across Rudd into the far corner.
They actually had the ball in the net a third time in the 33rd minute, Ejaria’s shot from outside the box coming back off the far post for Joao to score from the rebound.
Fortunately the flag went up for offside against Joao and it stayed at 2-0.
It was to stay that way all the way through, North End coming up against a solid defensive show from their visitors.
Gallagher and Barkhuizen joined in after an hour from the bench, Jayden Stockley too a bit later.
Maybe it neeed Stockley’s presence a bit earlier.
At 2-0 down, we had hoped for another Blackburn display when North End battled back to win 3-2.
Giving sides head starts and turning them round doesn’t happen too often as PNE found this time.