Dave Seddon's match verdict: Reading 1 Preston North End 0 - Felled by a sucker punch on the day Preston crowned a new boxing champion
Preston’s sporting pride was rescued in the boxing ring by Scott Fitzgerald a few hours after the football team had again allowed Reading to get the better of them.
Déjà vu? Fitzgerald’s win against Anthony Fowler in March came the same day that PNE lost 2-1 to the Royals in the wake of an international break.
Wind the clock on nearly seven months and Fitzgerald winning the British title in beating Ted Cheeseman followed the same path.
If the super welterweight’s next fight can be arranged for close season, or at least if North End aren’t playing at Reading the same day, that would be appreciated!
To be fair, the Lilywhites uncomfortable history at the Madejski Stadium goes back much longer than their last two visits.
They have won only twice in 15 visits, with a succession of PNE managers having been unable to discover a winning formula.
Craig Brown and Simon Grayson have been the only two to crack the code in 2004 and 2016.
Alex Neil has lost all three of his visits there as Preston boss and Saturday’s display was never going to threaten to break the bad run.
On the day they fell below the standards they have set in recent weeks, with them off key in most areas.
To put the boot in on them would be harsh though, when it is born in mind how well they have played over the last couple of months.
Hopefully this was a blip, one of those days when things just went askew.
Just as North End weren’t going to be promoted because they had hammered Barnsley 5-1 before the break, defeat to Reading doesn’t mean they have turned into a bad side over the last fortnight.
Constructive criticism of the performance in Berkshire is justified, as was the praise which came their way during the unbeaten run.
It is about balance, you get good days and bad in sport, the trick is having more of the good than the bad.
I don’t know if the record at the Madejski Stadium played on the minds of the players.
The PNE fans were certainly aware of it, many of them having sat in the away end previously and made the trip home with nothing to shout about.
A complication thrown into the mix this time was the timing of a change of manager by Reading.
There’s been a pattern of clubs sacking their boss after playing Preston over the last few seasons, however Reading did so in the build-up to Neil taking his men there.
Mark Bowen had replaced Jose Gomes and Neil was to admit that he was thrown by it to some extent.
A student of studying how the other team plays, Neil wasn’t sure how much or little Bowen would change.
It was the latter, nine of the starters from their last game in the starting XI this time and playing in the same shape.
Post-match, Neil admitted he perhaps had to get away from being too swayed by what the opposition might do in his planning for a game.
Neil said: “I think Reading was arguably the hardest team to prep for in terms of how they were going to play.
“We didn’t know what their system and personnel would be.
“A little concern for me is how much we probably rely on that now. That is something to look at.”
Had Neil had a crystal ball and been able to see how the Royals would play, North End’s performance on the day would still have seen them come up short.
The game was as a bit of a shocker in terms of its entertainment value and quality. Scrappy would best sum it up, with little good football played.
You would say the hosts edged it in terms of having the better chances.
However, they weren’t too much better than North End, although in Ovie Ejaria and John Swift they had the game’s two best players.
It’s a mix-and-match of players there, striker George Puscas a £10m signing from Inter Milan and Pele on loan from Monaco.
Then there was a shaven-headed Charlie Adam joining the action from the bench who you might say has seen better days.
For all the talk of Preston’s below-par performance, they did have the chances to find the net.
Tom Barkhuzien saw the ball bounce off his chest six yards out in the first half.
He also got beyond his man and into a very good shooting position, only to poke a shot straight at the keeper.
In the second half, David Nugent met a peach of a cross from Darnell Fisher but put a header into the grateful arms of keeper Rafael Cabral.
Either side of Cabral, had the header been a scruffy one, Nugent would have had his first PNE goal since returning.
Alan Browne put a shot into the side-netting from a tight angle late on.
Over the 101 minutes which was played – more of that in a moment – it would be hard to suggest they deserved a win had those chances gone in.
They probably merited a draw, 0-0 would have been an appropriate scoreline bearing in mind the lack of quality.
However, they were denied that in the eighth minute of stoppage-time.
Losing so late in the day just added to the miserable nature of the afternoon.
A succession of stoppages for injuries, the longest being to patch-up Reading skipper Michael Morrison, saw seven minutes put on the board.
More stoppages came in that additional time, so it was very much the late show.
Annoyingly, North End had a free-kick within range of the Reading box before the goal.
It came to nothing, as had many of their set-plays, and the hosts pushed up field to force one last corner.
The flag kick was cleared a good distance out of the box by Patrick Bauer.
Jordan Obita was afforded the time and space 30 yards out to let fly with a drive through a crowded box which Declan Rudd parried.
It fell to Matt Miazga who volleyed it goalwards, the ball just above Rudd who got both gloves to it but couldn’t stop it dropping into the net.