Preston North End were made to end 2019 in the worst possible way, with two goals in four minutes sealing the three points for Reading at Deepdale.
The 2-0 loss was only North End’s second of the season at Deepdale, having lost late on controversially against West Brom, but this was the first time they have deserved to lose in PR1.
Here are seem of the talking points from PNE’s final game of the decade.
Paul Gallagher made to wait
1. Paul Gallagher was the most notable exclusion from the starting XI against Reading, with many people, including myself, expecting him to come back into the side.
The Leeds game didn’t suit him in the way it panned out but being back at home, the composure and cutting edge that Gallagher can provide has often been the difference.
Alex Neil chose to leave the experienced mi fielder out in favour of continuing with his 4-1-4-1 ‘running 10s’. The way the game panned out, PNE needed Gallagher, although he was not able to make enough of a difference after his introduction.
Early on though, it did seem to be working well, North End starting strong and Brad Potts going through one on one...
What might have been...
2. It’s easy to think of what might have been, but Neil also referred to it in his post match press conference – had Potts found the net after just eight minutes, conversations would have been so much different.
Up until that point, the system was containing Reading and Ben Pearson was sweeping up everything that got remotely close to Ben Davies and Paul Huntington in the backline. It’s a chance Potts should have taken, well worked from Josh Harrop into the path of Potts, but credit to Rafael in the Reading goal, he did pull off a good save– as he did for Tom Clarke later on in the piece.
These are the fine margins PNE will need to come out on the right side of, or it could be a sign that they lack that cutting edge.
A chance not taken
3. Having mentioned Harrop,he was given the chance that many fans have been asking for and in all honesty, he didn’t take it.
He was subbed off alongside Potts, who received a louder cheer to the news of his departure than the No.10 despite equally poor performances. He did show moments of his quality, with nice pieces of footwork and linking up here and there.
But on the whole, he was pretty ineffective. Granted, wide left is not Harrop’s favoured or natural position, but to find himself in behind the striker in this PNE team would require a very specific circumstance, as someone like Jayden Stockley needs someone to run off him, to which Neil generally sees Browne as the option.
Too little too late?
4. Stockley was eventually brought on, in the place of Tom Clarke, with Alan Browne moving to right back, but North End’s first change was just short of the hour mark.
Alex Neil has shown before that he isn’t afraid to make early changes and no one would have begrudged him taking an early decision against Reading.
When Tom Barkhuizen took his jacket off and jogged back towards the fourth official, the Town End all cheered the move, there seemed to be a need for change but Neil was happy with how his side were playing.
The distinction there is with how they were playing, not with how the game was going. He again spoke post match about his side playing well, just not taking their chances.
But with chances not being taken and it looking like one of those days for North End, a change of personnel may have just injected a bit of energy that was lacking in places. Barkhuizen immediately got fans off their seats and looked lively, but didn't have a great deal of time in which to help PNE grab the two goals they needed against a deep and settled Reading backline.