Adam Lord takes a look at PNE’s 1-0 defeat at Reading on the opening day of the new season.
Simon Grayson has a deep squad
The PNE boss’ opening team sheet of the new season was always going to be a talking point. Having explored plenty of options throughout pre-season Grayson went with his often preferred away formation of three at the back. Liam Grimshaw got the nod over Chris Humphrey at right wing back for his competitive debut in the main major decision in the starting XI as PNE continue to explore their options after Calum Woods’ serious knee injury. The bench also made interesting reading, with a packed midfield meaning John Welsh didn’t even make the replacements. SImon Makienok’s absence was due to a slight thigh strain while Ben Pearson had been unwell in the run up to the game. All isn’t lost obviously for those who didn’t feature at the Madejski Stadium, with changes expected against Hartlepool on Tuesday night in the first round of the EFL Cup.
Defensive set-up needs an attacking outlet
The deployment of three central defenders was of little surprise on Saturday given Grayson’s tendency to use wing backs away from home. It didn’t work however as North End found themselves penned in for the majority of the first period, ultimately going in a goal behind. Soaking up pressure is fine, but there was little in the way of an attacking outlet as the visitors failed to find a way out of their defensive third time and time again. It was at least good to see a switch at the break, with a flat back four and Alan Browne’s introduction into the midfield meaning North End caused Reading more problems after the break.
Clinical edge needed in front of goal
North End’s chances arrived in the second period but ultimately came and went. Daniel Johnson had the pick of them but couldn’t beat Ali Al-Habsi when through on goal. It would have been a game changer as the visitors improved early in the second period and could have swung the game in their favour. It wasn’t to be and despite more of an attacking thrust as the game went on the majority of opportunities were half chances, Greg Cunningham failing to get on the end of a Paul Huntington flick, Joe Garner heading over the bar and Paul Gallagher seeing a shot blocked by Al-Habsi.
New right back now a must
This isn’t necessarily something we learned as PNE’s search for a right back has been well documented after Woods’ injury in the pre-season friendly at Oldham. Grayson had talked about playing the waiting game in his search for what would be an eighth and final signing of the window. The sight of skipper Tom Clarke limping off at Reading however means that one of the PNE boss’ options to fill the full back vacancy is gone, even if it is not the captain’s preferred position. Grayson may want to bide his time and look for the right man but now he may have no option but to recruit sooner rather than later. Fingers crossed the injury isn’t too serious.