Verdict - Preston North End avoided their own stereotype in huge win over Reading as play-off push is on

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Preston North End made it three wins on the spin on Easter Monday as they beat Reading 2-1 at Deepdale.
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It looked like a very typical Preston day at one point – they’d batter the Royals, didn’t separate themselves from their hapless visitors and were then level with eight minutes to go in the game. Oh, and there was also blue skies, followed by a bit of cloud, blue skies, torrential rain, more blue skies and then more rain. Preston.

But after Tom Cannon’s goal was cancelled out by Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan in the second half – direct from a flick on from a long throw in – it really did look like do or die time for the Lilywhites. Play-off hopes in the balance, against a side in the bottom three and far superior on the day, who would step forward to get them what they deserved? Not that North End normally do such things.

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Preston North End's Brad Potts celebrates scoring his side's second goalPreston North End's Brad Potts celebrates scoring his side's second goal
Preston North End's Brad Potts celebrates scoring his side's second goal

Brad Potts was the man, getting his head on the end of a ball headed into the middle from a deep corner. He ran off, took his shirt off, got clotheslined and nearly decapitated by Ryan Ledson and then got booked. But North End got three all important points.

It felt very much like a point in the season that Preston will look back on as a defining moment, should they make the play-offs. They’re now level on points with the top six, Millwall and Blackburn Rovers both also on 62 in fifth and sixth respectively. They’re next up to, either side of an away trip to Swansea City. There really is all to play for.

PNE were excellent in the game. It was as good of a possession based, dominant performance as we have seen under Ryan Lowe at North End. Granted, Reading were absolutely dire, but the home side still created some good chances, played some nice stuff and should have been a couple to the good by half time. They weren’t Cannon in particular should have found the net, but he kept going and got his rewards.

The move for the first goal was sublime. It wasn’t favourable on a crowded right wing for PNE so they switched it left. Alvaro Fernandez found Josh Onomah, who gave it back holding off his man and the former picked Cannon out perfectly who took a touch a coolly slotted it home.

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The goal they conceded was cheap, Sunday League stuff. A flick on from a throw in going in – poor. It is unlike PNE at the back though so there should be some forgiveness.

In front of the defence though was a masterclass in midfield. Ben Whiteman was excellent on the ball, positive and instrumental in keeping pressure on Reading as North End looked to find goals. Josh Onomah and Daniel Johnson playing slightly in front of his is the stuff of dreams when they’re on song like they were on Monday.

Johnson did what we have seen for so long at North End, he ran the game. He was orchestrating teammates and toying with Reading, most of North End’s play was directed through him.

In Onomah, the Jamaican has the perfect partner in crime. They have similar games but also are different. Whilst they are classy operators on the ball do not underestimate Onomah’s physical attributes and his willingness to get stuck in. He used his body perfectly to lay the ball wide for Fernandez to set up the opening goal.

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Although we have seen only 100 minutes or so of the 25-year-old in close to full flow, he looks to be a real asset to North End and he will need to be for the run in. It’s taken him a bit of time to get fit – and oh what might have been had he been good to go from the off – but it looks a shrewd addition.

Now level with the play-offs, Preston’s future is very much in their own hands. It’s tough, but there is something to be said about being able to actively and directly disrupt the teams around you as you near the end of the season.

There are few teams that can compare their run in to the difficulty of Lowe’s side, they have three of the top six to come, two away, but it would make it all the sweeter.

It has been said that there are five cup finals to come and whilst we’re on with cliches, there are certainly two six-pointers with the Lions and Rovers lined up for the next two Saturdays.

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Millwall away followed by Swansea City away three days later is tough on the travel, but momentum is with PNE at the moment and that’s vitally important.

It’s what will have got them through the game against the Royals. They’re in the habit of not losing, they’re in the habit of getting the results they need, the wins. Three on the spin is good, four would be sensational, especially given the context of the match.

In just two weeks’ time PNE could look safe in one of the play-off places, they could also be out of the running entirely. That’s the beautifully horrific nature of the Championship but it’s far better to be involved in this sort of stuff with only a handful of games to go than in mid table obscurity.

It’s also a good building block for next season, good learning for the group who will be aiming to push for the play-offs again next season should they not make it. For now though, the Lowecomotion moves on, to the capital, to Millwall.