Dave Seddon's verdict: Reading 2 Preston North End 1 - Successive Championship defeats put PNE fans on edge
In the middle of August the alarm bells are jangling for some of the Preston North End faithful.
Two Championship games in and they fear a long hard season ahead in a division which is rarely forgiving.
It is not the two league defeats alone which has some looking on the dark side, more a combination of factors.
They see the squad as being weaker than in previous years, no stand-out name in the shape of a Jordan Hugill, a Ben Davies, a Ben Pearson or a Callum Robinson, to lean on.
Still no new striker, albeit there is a fortnight or so of the transfer window remaining to put that one right.
There just seems to be an air of negativity hovering at the moment which has hit the early-season mood.
Defeat at Reading on the back of last week’s 4-1 loss to Hull City, left North End at the bottom of the table.
Little should be read into league tables so early in the season, after all they are only a win and draw off the top spot.
But it’s another item to add to the fans’ disgruntlement as they gear-up for Tuesday’s televised visit to Huddersfield.
The Reading defeat was a strange game. PNE could easily have lost quite heavily but equally could have come back with a draw.
Either side of going 1-0- up, the home side created some good chances – including hitting the post.
Daniel Johnson’s penalty brought PNE level and should have seen the momentum swing their way.
Instead, Reading regained the lead within eight minutes before Frankie McAvoy’s men bared their teeth and piled on the pressure in the closing stages in a bid for parity.
But for two fine saves from goalkeeper Rafael Cabral in stoppage-time, they would have come back with a share of the spoils.
That late rally was their best spell of the game and it had the hosts on the back foot.
The Royals weren’t any great shakes in their play, at times content to sit behind the ball and stay in shape while Preston came at them.
What they did was to twice find the back of the net, with the visitors a touch generous in their defending for both goals.
The first you could point the finger at all of the back three.
As for the second goal, the Lilywhites were just a bit too easy to play through before John Swift got a slice of luck with his finish hitting both posts before going into the net.
The defending has been a worry these opening two league matches, after all it was their strength towards the end of the last campaign.
In McAvoy’s interim tenure, PNE kept five clean sheets in the final eight games.
The same back three who were the bedrock of that tight ship, have shipped six in two matches – either side of the clean sheet in the Carabao Cup at Mansfield which featured Patrick Bauer in place of Liam Lindsay.
It was back to the trio of Jordan Storey, Lindsay and Andrew Hughes on Saturday, and it’s been a shaky start for them so far.
While it’s very early yet to be pressing the panic button, a win against Huddersfield would be most welcome.
Their start hasn’t been great either, Fulham hammering them 5-1 at the John Smith’s Stadium at the same time North End were losing in Berkshire.
This was the first league away game which the Preston fans had been able to travel to since the final day of February last year. By road it was rather stop-start journey, with delays at several points en route.
Many were still filing in after kick-off, summer holiday traffic and football not the best of partners.
There was a tweak of his line-up from McAvoy, with four changes from the Mansfield outing last Tuesday.
Back came Alan Browne, Ryan Ledson, Emil Riis and Lindsay.
Riis partnered Scott Sinclair up front, the duo having scored all four of PNE’s goals between them ahead of Saturday’s game.
Browne and Ledson were teamed-up in midfield,with Johnson playing in front of them.
That meant a benching for Ben Whiteman who had started both the Hull and Mansfield matches.
From an attacking point of view, North End served-up little in the first half.
Reading had the better of it and for the third time in a week, McAvoy had to issue a ‘must do better’ warning in terms of the opening 45 minutes.
Only Sepp van den Berg sliding in the way of an Ethan Bristow shot in the six-yard box stopped the home side taking the lead.
That merely delayed things, the Royals going ahead in the 28th minute.
Storey gave the ball away trying to clear, it played out to Josh Laurent on the left.
His low cross evaded Storey and Lindsay in the middle, and brushed the fingertips of Daniel Iversen who dived to try and intercept.
It came to Femi Azeez at the far post who stepped inside a hesitant Hughes and knocked the ball into the net.
Lucas Joao’s shot which came back off the post two minutes into the second half seemed to act as a wake-up call for North End, with them better after that for a spell.
The equaliser came after van den Berg’s long throw was head on by Storeyto Browne, his shot hitting Michael Morrison’s raised left arm.
Johnson hit the penalty firmly into the bottom corner, PNE’s tails suddenly up.
Within eight minutes though, Swift exchanged passes with Joao on the edge of the box after Reading had come forward on the counter.
His shot past Iversen hit the inside of one post, rolled along the line and struck the other before going in.
Brad Potts, Whiteman and Sean Maguire were introduced from the bench at varying stages, it must be said all of them adding something.
Maguire’s cross was headed into the side netting by Browne.
Rafael somehow got a glove to Potts’ close-range shot to take it past the post in the 92nd minute. Then the keeper dived to tip away Whiteman’s free-kick, the ref blowing at that point for full-time.
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