A very well deserved three points for North End and a scoreline that actually flattered the opposition.
Reading could not have complained if this game had finished 3-0 to North End and this to a young and relatively inexperienced PNE side at that. A real solid debut by 18-year-old Josh Earl at left-back coupled with a commanding centre-half display from Ben Davies saw the young ones step up to the mark in a very good win for North End. The winning goal was crafted magnificently and if it hadn’t have been for some poor finishing later in the game this would have been a much more comfortable victory than the 1-0 scoreline suggests. Jordan Hugill was named man of the match but I thought Sean Maguire had an outstanding game for us, laying on the goal and being a real thorn in the Royals’ side. North End started the game playing the usual 4-2-3-1 with Harrop and Maguire coming into the three behind Hugill. Very early on we showed our intent when Pearson got forward with the first of a number of attempts in the first half. Unfortunately Pearson was in the book again as early as the 12th minute for a tackle similar to the one at Leeds last Saturday. To be fair it didn’t restrict the combative midfielder but made him slightly more thoughtful in terms of the level of aggression shown in the engine room. North End took the lead after Maxwell fired a long ball out to Barkhuizen on the left, who did superbly to get a ball across for Maguire to head back to Hugill and the centre-forward did the rest, finishing off a superb move. Maguire had a chance of making it two before the break but the former Cork striker lost his footing and North End went in at half time with just one goal to show for their superiority throughout the first half. In the second half, I though we had even better chances although the visitors came more into the game. In the dying moments, Stephy Mavididi was put clean through only to fire his shot straight at Mannone. Seven points from four games represents a good start and probably a better tally than many expected given the start on paper. Once again, though, the most disappointing aspect of the day was a crowd of just 11,174, which included just 374 from Reading.
A one goal victory by Preston against last year’s play-off finalists was the least this team of young guns deserved. A two or three-goal margin would not have flattered the hosts as North End created a number of decent chances in both halves whilst keeping Reading down to only one attempt on target over the whole ninety minutes. This was made all the more satisfying by taking into account the number of young players on show, with the unexpected debut of 18-year-old Josh Earl thrown into the mix because of a serious injury suffered by the captain, Greg Cunningham, in the game against Derby on Tuesday night. Cunningham’s experience and never-say-die attitude will be missed, but it was reassuring to see Earl make a calm and collected debut as his replacement at left back. Of the other youngsters, a good first start for Josh Harrop in midfield was added into an excellent display by Ben Davies at centre back. Preston started and finished the game with an attacking line-up that was spearheaded by Jordon Hugill as the arrow point supported by pacey front men either side of him in the form of Tom Barkhuizen and Sean Maguire and their respective substitutions by Callum Robinson and Stephy Mavididi during the second half. By the mid-point of the first period this tactic got its just rewards, resulting in the well-taken Hugill goal. Hugill was a thorn in the visiting defence all afternoon and it is no wonder he has been the subject of various attempts to buy him over the last few weeks. The second half continued in much the same vein as the first and Preston should have really put the game to bed on a number of occasions, with the last one being a break through on goal in the closing stages by Mavididi. This other young player will no doubt be disappointed he didn’t come off the better in his one-on-one with the Reading keeper.
This week has seen the media pay tribute to music legend Elvis Presley and 40 years after he left the building for the final time in August 1977 it was last years beaten play off finalists Reading who ended up being All Shook Up at Deepdale by a vibrant Preston side. Forty years ago Nobby Stiles had returned to Deepdale to take over as our new manager in the summer similar to this season when we have also had a managerial change. In 1977 we began the season by scoring just five goals in our opening eight games, and it is true to say that likewise Alex Neil’s side has also found goals hard to come by with just a tally of two in our opening four league outings. However at the end of season 1977-78 we achieved automatic promotion helped by a 30-goal tally from Alex Bruce supported by 17 from another crowd favourite Mike Elwiss. Whether or not the partnership of Sean Maguire and Jordan Hugill can go on to bag a similar tally this season remains to be seen. But the two are rapidly becoming the modern day equivalent of Bruce and Elwiss as fans favourites and combined well for the game’s only goal with Maguire’s knockdown being chested down and powered into the net by man of the match Hugill midway through the first half. Neil has been able to build a side on the foundations left by his predecessor Simon Grayson and in the days where most clubs in this division are awash with money, it was pleasing to see encouraging performances by debutant Josh Earl and youngsters Josh Harrop and Ben Davies. Reading were restricted to having just one effort on target and it was in the main a satisfying day for the Deepdale faithful and with seven points from a difficult opening four games being in complete contrast from last season’s woeful start.