Preston’s play-off hopes hang by a thread after defeat at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.
MATCH REPORT: Reading 1-0 Preston North End
We take a look at the main talking points after Mo Barrow’s early goal left PNE some six points shy of the top six.
That might be that
A third straight defeat means PNE will need some run, and plenty of help elsewhere, to break into the top six. Alex Neil’s side slipped to 11th on Saturday, where they finished the last two seasons, and are now six points adrift of the play-offs. The luck they got over Easter with results elsewhere deserted them this time around with wins for Derby, Middlesbrough and Millwall. Other sides will drop points, plenty have to play each other, but North End need to get their own house in order first to have any chance of ending a very promising season on a real high.
Final third will be what makes difference
The scoreline wasn’t the only thing that was similar to the Easter Monday defeat to Derby. At the Madejski North End had 61 per cent possession and 17 shots to five. Again it counted for nothing though as like the Rams, Paul Clement’s Royals picked up three points as they converted their only attempt on target, Barrow having a free header after Liam Kelly’s free-kick had been flicked on. At the other end plenty of promising play bought no end product. It looks like being the story of the season.
Long season taking its toll
Neil admitted post-match that after a long and largely successful season, some of his players looked jaded. Sean Maguire was rested after a flat Easter weekend, while Tom Barkhuizen was amongst those who didn’t look in full flight. The PNE boss again pointed out post-match that as exciting as this side has been at times this season that he believes it is still very much a work in progress. It is a first full season in the second tier for many and they put a lot into every game. It looks to be taking its toll both physically and mentally.
Next move in goal impossible to predict
In out, in out, shake it all about. For the fourth game in a row Neil switched goalkeepers. A couple of the changes have been forced given Declan Rudd’s baby and Chris Maxwell’s arguably late return from China. But having been critical of the latter after Derby’s winner on Easter Monday the former was back in against the Royals. Rudd could do nothing with the goal and pulled off one crucial save just before the break. Is Rudd here to stay for the final five games? On recent evidence, who knows.
Clarke still a key man
In front of Rudd club captain Tom Clarke played the second half after an unusually difficult 45 minutes for Ben Davies and Paul Huntington. A booking for Davies saw him hooked at the break with Clarke featuring for the first time since the win over Hull in February. The skipper has battled a serious and then a niggling injury and has had two men in fine form in front of him. But here he did what he does best, battled hard and ensured the focus could be on the other end of the field in the second period.