Preston North End 0 Reading 2 - Match report from Deepdale as the Lilywhites end 2019 with a defeat
Two goals in four minutes early in the first half condemned Preston North End to defeat against Reading at Deepdale.
It was only a second home defeat in the Championship for the Lilywhites and this was very much an off-day for them.
The Royals were better in both boxes, scoring their goals with good movement and then defending well against a North End who were lacking any sort of creative edge.
North End's best chance was an early effort from Brad Potts with the scoreline still blank, Reading keeper Rafael Cabral saving well with his legs.
John Swift fired the visitors in front in the 12th minute, a lead doubled soon after by Lucas Joao - a dangerous customer over the years for North End.
It was all huff and puff from PNE after that with them rarely threatening to find a way back into the game.
They had plenty of the ball but all too often hit a wall of black shirts with the final ball.
Defeat in such a manner was a disappointing way for them to end the decade on and they will need to play better when they kick-off 2020 against Middlesbrough on New Year's Day.
The North End starting XI had shown two changes from the Boxing Day draw at Leeds United, with Billy Bodin and Josh Harrop returning in place of Tom Barkhuizen and David Nugent.
Barkhuizen dropped down to the bench while an eye injury sustained at Leeds ruled Nugent out.
PNE operated in a 4-1-4-1, Ben Pearson in the holding role with Brad Potts and Alan Browne playing as the attacking midfielders.
Harrop operated from the left-wing and Bodin on the right, both given the licence to drift inside and provide support centrally.
Potts had the first chance of the contest in the eighth minute, Harrop's pass finding him in space to the right of goal.
He took a touch and hit a low shot which Royals keeper Cabral blocked well with his legs.
It was a chance which needed taking and it proved costly as Reading scored twice in the space of four minutes to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
Charlie Adam and Ovie Ejaria linked-up well in the 12th minute to free Tyler Blackett down the left side of the box, his cut-back finding the unattended Swift who stroked a shot past Declan Rudd.
Things got worse in the 16th minute, Blackett's pass freeing Joao who fired home an assured finish.
North End's response was a curling shot from Bodin which caught a big deflection to take it wide and out for a corner.
Andrew Hughes' low ball in from the left was flicked on by Bodin into the path of Potts who put a first-time shot over the bar from the edge of the box,
There was a let-off for PNE in the 33rd minute as Reading had the ball in the net a third time only for an offside flag to come to their rescue.
Ejaria left fly with a shot from outside the box which hit the post and came out to Joao who netted the rebound. But the assistant on the Sir Tom Finney Stand side put his flag up against Joao
There were chances at both ends in the run-up to the interval, Ejaria wrestling possession off Potts and having a run at goal before shooting over the bar.
A cross from Hughes then dropped over Browne's head in the box but fell to Bodin who volleyed over from 10 yards.
Surprisingly Alex Neil resisted the opportunity to make changes at half-time, sending out the same XI for the start of the second half.
Two minutes in, Bodin beat his marker and pulled the trigger on a left-foot shot which Cabral dived to tip over the bar.
With 58 minutes on the clock, Ben Davies' header back towards Rudd almost fell short of its target, the keeper having to kick clear off the boot of Joao who had stolen in.
Neil made a double change after an hour, Paul Gallagher and Barkhuizen coming on for Potts and Harrop.
PNE went close to pulling a goal in the 64th minute, Hughes' cross from the left staying low and skidding across the box to Clarke whose diving header was smothered by Cabral with his legs.
It was Clarke who made way for North End's final substitution, Jayden Stockley replacing him. That meant a reshuffle, with Browne going to right-back in a 4-4-2 formation.
North End huffed and puffed in the final stages but rarely looked like breaching a well-organised visitors' back line.
With four minutes left, Gallagher lifted a decent ball into the box but Maguire could only direct his header straight at the keeper.
The last action of the game saw Davies' cross headed wide of the far post by Stockley.
PNE: Rudd, Clarke (Stockley 69), Huntington, Davies, Hughes, Pearson, Bodin, Potts (Gallagher 60), Browne, Harrop (Barkhuizen 60), Maguire. Subs (not used): Ripley, Fisher, Ledson, Bayliss.
Reading:Cabral, Gunter, Morrison, Moore, Blackett, Swift (McCleary 74), Adam (Tinomhota 65), Ejaria, Meite (Obita 83), Pele, Joao. Subs (not used): Walker, Miazga, Boye, Olise.
Referee: Jarred Gillett (Merseyside)
Attendance: 13,680 (557 away)