Reading 1, PNE 2: Dave Seddon’s big match verdict

Jermaine Beckford opens the scoring
Jermaine Beckford opens the scoring
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Happy travellers Preston North End ended their 6,900 mile Championship road trip with victory at Reading, this an eighth league away win.

Don’t read too much into the scoreline, the Lilywhites were much better than the Royals, much better than the single-goal margin might suggest.

Daniel Johnson scores the winner against Reading

Daniel Johnson scores the winner against Reading

Had it not been for home keeper Ali Al Habsi, named Reading’s player of the year shortly before kick-off, the visitors could have run up a cricket score.

Six times in the first half, Al Habsi pulled off saves as PNE swarmed forward with swagger and confidence.

He was at it again in the second period but was not to prove unbeatable as first Jermaine Beckford and then Daniel Johnson, found a way past him.

In between, Stephen Quinn pulled Reading level and looked to have earned them what would have been the most undeserved share of the spoils.

Johnson’s 91st minute winner, swept past Al Habsi into the bottom corner, was a delivering of justice.

This was North End’s first league win at the Madejski Stadium at the 10th time of asking, their only previous joy there coming in an FA Cup replay in 2004.

The last league away win over Reading had been at their former home Elm Park in October 1982.

Had PNE not won this one, not only would they have been cursing Al Habsi but also a wastefulness in front of goal.

While the former Bolton and Wigan keeper deserves the plaudits, he should not have had a prayer on a couple of occasions.

He saved from Beckford in a one-on-one when really the striker had to score.

Earlier, Al Habsi had got a glove to efforts from Paul Gallagher and Calum Woods in quick succession.

Mind you, saves he made later from DJ and Gallagher were down to good keeping rather than any fault of the Preston pair.

“It was as good as we have played going forward this season,” said PNE manager Simon Grayson.

“We probably had as many clear-cut chances during the first half than we had done in many 90 minutes.

“It’s not as if Reading have average players in their team, they have some very experienced ones.

“We were very good in all departments, we won the ball back, pressed, passed it well and mixed our play up to good effect.

“If there was something to be disappointed about, it was that we had the chances to have finished the game off by half-time.”

North End’s victory and a late downpour certainly dampened the lap of thanks done by the Reading players.

There were few home supporters left in the ground as Brian McDermott’s men trudged round the pitch.

Much of the noise was coming from the 778 PNE fans who saluted the efforts of the players away from home for one last time.

It has been a good season on the road, with 31 points taken from their 23 games.

North End have currently taken one more point away than they have at Deepdale, a statistic which hopefully will change on the final day when Leeds are in town.

Their away record stands up well to scrutiny when compared with some of the teams around them in the Championship.

Sheffield Wednesday have won six games on the road, Cardiff five, Ipswich and Brentford eight, while there have been seven aways wins for Birmingham.

Last season in League One, North End won 12 games on their travels, while it was 11 the campaign before.

Under Grayson, they have certainly found a way to pick-up points away.

He set-up 3-5-2 for the visit to Berkshire, with Woods and Adam Reach pushed high up the pitch in wing-back roles.

Injury ruled skipper Tom Clarke out, Paul Huntington taking over from him in the three-man defence.

Johnson was restored to the starting XI in place of Ben Pearson, a change which had been made in the 10th minute of the clash with Burnley when Pearson suffered an injury to his heel.

Pearson was fit enough to go on the bench but was not needed, the midfield an area which North End dominated for long spells.

Gallagher again played the deeper role in the engine room trio, that affording him the time to get on the ball and spray the ball around with a decent level of accuracy.

Johnson and Alan Browne were in front of him, with DJ instructed to get into the space behind Beckford and Joe Garner.

After a shaky opening 10 minutes, North End got on top and stayed there for the rest of the first half.

You might argue that the shackles were off, this after all having started as a 15th v 11th clash.

Credit to PNE though, they played with a purpose and a determination to go out and win the game.

Forget flip-flops and beach towels, their eye was firmly on the ball.

Chance after chance came their way as the first period progressed.

Two of the best fell the way of Beckford, the first of those coming when Johnson got to the byline and pulled the ball back for him.

The front man did not get the cleanest of connections but it still needed a sliding block from Paul McShane to take it behind.

Just before the half hour, Huntington’s long clearance was misjudged by Reading centre-half Jake Cooper on the half-way line.

It left Beckford with a clear run on goal and probably a bit too much thinking time.

On reaching the edge of the box, he tried to dink a shot over Al Habsi, one which the keeper stretched up an arm to push away.

Moments later, Woods jinked his way across the box, beating two defenders, only to drag a shot inches wide.

It was Reading who made the better start to the second half but Preston broke the deadlock in the 56th minute.

Browne’s header forward was flicked over the top of the defence by Johnson, sending Beckford clear in the box.

He made no mistake this time, lifting a shot over Al Habsi as the keeper came out, and off he went to celebrate with the PNE fans.

Reading had improved with the introduction at the interval of Josh Barrett, with the teenager posing a threat on the right side of midfield.

They equalised in the 86th minute, Yann Kermorgant’s lay-off falling to Quinn who drilled a first-time shot into the far bottom corner from 20 yards past a static Chris Kirkland.

Just after that, Kirkland saved well at his near post from Barrett as the Royals threatened to win the game.

Thankfully, it was PNE who had the final say, the clock having just ticked into stoppage-time when Reach picked up a stray clearance from Gareth McCleary.

He played the ball inside to Johnson who had time to take a touch before finding the far corner with a low shot from 12 yards.