Clubs rarely fare well under caretaker leadership and Reading have proved no exception down the years. One is reminded of Kevin Dillon's run of four defeats out of five in 2003, the plucky but inevitable reverse at Old Trafford under Eamonn Dolan in 2012 and apocalyptic losses against Plymouth and Sheffield United under Brian McDermott. There will always be an understandable reluctance to rock the boat and to leave things largely unchanged and, an intriguing place on the bench for youngster Josh Barrett and a recall for Jonathan Bond apart, Martin Kuhl's selection proved no exception at Deepdale yesterday.
Lining up with a conventional 4-4-2 against a similarly aligned Preston would always provide for unappetising fare and with Simon Grayson's squad largely a settled one and with every player knowing his job, it would always be a tough ask for Reading to come away with much in the way of opportunities. Indeed, from the off, the men in white were hustling the Reading team into mistakes, snapping constantly at opponents' heels and squeezing space in all areas of the pitch.
This was particularly evident in the full back positions - Chris Gunter and Andrew Taylor's influence on the game was largely negated while Danny Williams, for all his industry, struggled to keep possession. That certainly wasn't the case for pony-tailed Lilywhite Daniel Johnson; the ex-Aston Villa man scarcely giving the ball away all game and bossing the central areas.
The space created - which, it must be said, was meagre even for Preston - led to the main scoring opportunity of the first half. On loan from Middlesbrough, Adam Reach cut in from the left flank with far too much ease and thudded a drive against Jonathan Bond's left upright, the ball somehow contriving to skim across goal without rippling the net.
That was a let off but otherwise, Reading rarely looked troubled before the break - aside from a Keystone cops mix up where Bond and Paul McShane got their wires crossed. That embarrassing sequence, despite it not leading to a goal, seems to have confirmed some onlookers' preconceptions about Bond but apart from this, it was a generally confident return to the starting XI for the former Watford youngster.
This became evident at the start of the second half when Reading, alarmingly slow out of the blocks, were subjected to a goalmouth scramble that saw Bond deny Reach twice from close range. The goalkeeper was then left powerless as Joe Garner put North End ahead from the penalty spot. Paul McShane should have known better than to attempt to dispossess the striker from behind as he cut in from the left.
In general, the reconstituted central defensive partnership of McShane and Anton Ferdinand looked solid enough, generally snuffing out the bulk of the threat. Ferdinand in particular was calm and assured and signals an improvement after Michael Hectors' recent erratic performance. Indeed, it was not a good day for the Chelsea loanees - Lucas Piazon was nowhere to be seen while another first team squad member, Orlando Sá also failed to make the eighteen, presumably due to injury.
Up front, Reading failed to seriously trouble a back line missing the suspended Australian Bailey Wright. Tom Clarke and Paul Huntington towered over the diminutive Matěj Vydra, once again displaying a singular reluctance to take on opportunities himself after clever runs provided him with half opportunities. Elsewhere, a large slice of that humble pie that we had started consuming after Nick Blackman's early season form has been left unconsumed in the fridge for now - the rangy striker was never at the races here, too often caught on his heels and too often disappearing into defensive wormholes. He was to miss the major chance for the Royals, lofting the ball over the crossbar when clean through with only the excellent and fast approaching Jordan Pickford to beat.
Preston deserved the win even if the result was far from a humiliation and the comfort with which Marnick Vermijl wove through before sending an effort scudding wide was a worrying moment towards the end. Again, the highlight of long away trips like this increasingly become the pre-match build up, the city's revived Moorbrook pub rivalling Reading's Nag's Head for excellence. Although cheap, the option many supporters choose to make - to board the coaches at the Mad Stad - looks increasingly unappetising even if it is the only choice if you want to keep costs down. A mixed reception for the players at the end said it all and Reading need a new manager as soon as possible - preferably before Hull on Wednesday.