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The Oppo: Preston North End

Handbags Harris gives you everything you need to know about The Royals versus Preston North End.

Reading v Preston North End Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images

New season, some new opponents, and a new regular article for TTE readers, as we commence with a regular lowdown on the history between Reading FC and our upcoming opponents.

To kick off the feature, one of England’s oldest and proudest clubs, Preston North End, feature prior to their efforts to improve on what is a very poor record in the Royal County.

Head To Head

Apart from a brief flurry of fixtures in the 1920s, it wasn’t until the early 70s that the Royals really started to play a regular fixture against the Lilywhites. Predominantly, this was due to Reading’s more modest history in the Southern League and Division 3 (South). PNE, on the other hand, boast a mainly top division history until 1961, when their steady decline down the divisions commenced.

The overall record between the sides reads respectively well for both clubs, which is to be expected given the fact the sides have generally met as equals in their league history, however the clear paradox lies in the respective home and away records – Reading’s record at Deepdale is woeful while PNE’s record at both Elm Park and the Madejski is equally abysmal.

table head to head record

It is one of football’s great mysteries why this happens, but every club has opposition clubs that are the gift that keeps on giving and PNE (in Reading at least) can be included in our list given the above statistics.

There is no explanation for this phenomenon, but I look forward to matches against PNE in Reading as much as I do matches against Doncaster and Derby given the propensity for Reading to stroll away with three welcome points, regardless of the situation. There are exceptions to the rule of course, as demonstrated by our uncharacteristic 3-0 win at Deepdale in August 2005 (a quarter of PNE’s goals conceded at home that season in one match).

Matches against PNE are almost always hard-fought affairs, but even when under the cosh Reading usually prevail at home. It would be good for Jaap Stam to get three points under his belt early on and hopefully the element of the unknown will work in Reading’s favour.

The last meeting was very much a turn-up for the books as it was PNE’s first ever win in the league at the Madejski, and first league win in Reading since October 1982. Since promotion from what was then Division 2 in 2002 Reading had won six from seven matches against the Lilywhites at home, despite being up against strong PNE line ups containing talent such as David Healy, Eddie Lewis and David Nugent.

Memorable Match

Personally I never saw any matches between the two sides during the Elm Park years, so delving into my memory bank I go back to October 2003, and the opening salvos of the Steve Coppell reign, in fact just the Liverpudlian’s second match in charge. The match pretty much summed up the sort of luck the away side gets in fixtures between the two sides and was packed with incident, controversial decisions, defensive vulnerability, attacking plunder, and the inevitable Nicky Forster goal.

Reading started brightly and confidently, but PNE took the lead through Ricardo Fuller who notched when a ball into the inside left channel found the striker with time and space, but still with much to do, his low strike straight at Hahnemann managing to squirm under the big American who was suffering a run of poor form at that time.

Nonetheless, despite the setback Reading continued to plug away with an air of confidence and were unlucky not to equalise when a Shaun Goater header from a typical Nicky Shorey cross hit the bar, and then PNE defender Marlon Broomes, already on a booking, hauled Nicky Forster down in the area for a clear penalty, and received a second yellow to depart the field on the half hour mark. The foul was arguably a straight red card on its own, but no matter as the first truly controversial decision was given by referee Andy Hall and his assistants from the resultant spot kick.

Shaun Goater’s kick was well struck but PNE keeper Jonathan Gould dived low to his right and parried the kick onto the post, however the big Scotsman’s efforts were curtailed by the assistant who ruled that Gould had infringed somehow (to this day I have no idea how), and Goater stepped up again to despatch the kick into the keeper’s top right corner. Clearly somewhat unimpressed with the decision, PNE manager Craig Brown argued the toss a tad too vehemently and was sent from the dugout as a result.

A Reading onslaught ensued, wave after wave of Reading attack was thwarted, and early in the second half Reading were hit with the sucker punch when a rare foray into the Reading half saw Richard Cresswell win a controversial penalty for PNE which Graham Alexander dispatched manfully. Harsh on Reading, and as time wore on Steve Coppell introduced additional attacking options from the bench in the form of John Salako and Bas Savage, and the game inevitably opened up as Reading searched for their second equaliser.

Scott Murray squirmed an effort onto the post, while PNE had the opportunity to seal the match when Cresswell drove straight at Hahnemann when brilliantly positioned central to goal. Indeed, Andy Hall further endeared himself to the 400 or so PNE supporters who had made the journey south by denying Ricardo Fuller a clear penalty when he was scythed down, adding insult to injury by booking the big Jamaican for simulation.

Reading finally managed to get the breakthrough from a set piece, whipped in from the left flank from sub John Salako, and John Mackie headed his last goal for Reading with around 10 minutes remaining, and Reading got the result their performance deserved when Nicky Forster inevitably scored the winner to rub salt into the PNE wounds.

Not exactly a favourite of PNE supporters after the transfer shenanigans of four years previous (more of that later), I distinctly recall the despairing reaction from PNE supporters when Forster was named as the goalscorer. 30 seconds later, the final whistle, and two wins from two for Coppell. Let the good times roll!

They Played For Both Teams

In truth, there aren’t too many players that played for both PNE and Reading (in fact there are only four), however. supporters from the late 80s and early 90s will undoubtedly remember Mike Conroy who pulled on the then sky blue and white shirt of Reading.

Scotsman Conroy commenced his career at Coventry but failed to make the grade at Highfield Road so moved back to more familiar territory at Clydebank where he notched 38 goals in 126 appearances, a more than reasonable strike rate of one-in-three, which earned him a move to Paisley-based St Mirren. 10 months later, and after just 1 goal in 11 appearances, Conroy was picked up by the Royals for £50k. He scored 7 goals in 80 appearances and three years at Reading, however despite notoriety for being a striker, Conroy was more regularly deployed in midfield for Reading and was eventually sold by Mark McGhee to Division 4 Burnley for £35k. In 99 appearances for Burnley, Conroy scored 39 goals including 24 league goals in his first season to help the Clarets to promotion, but just 6 league goals in his second season in what was now called Division 2 saw him sold back down a division to PNE for £85k, where he scored 22 times in 57 appearances, including a short stint alongside some chap named Beckham. Whatever happened to him?

From PNE, another transfer, this time Ian Branfoot splashing £75k on the player where a further 42 goals were scored (in 115 appearances) for a Fulham side that was desperate for cash until the al-Fayed takeover, where he was sold on once more to Blackpool for £50k in 1998. Just 17 appearances, one season and one goal later, Conroy was twice loaned out to Chester where he scored three goals in 15 appearances across the two spells. Conroy saw out his career in Australia, at Carlton and Eastern Pride respectively, before retiring when Eastern Pride folded in 2001. Conroy carved out a modest lower league career spanning 17 years, 554 appearances and 156 goals in all competitions for nine different clubs, a more than reasonable return of one goal every 3.5 matches.

Grudge Moment

Two of the country’s oldest Football League clubs spent the best part of 120 years without very much in the way of mutual controversy, but the summer of 1999 saw a sequence of episodes (some of which shall remain for later articles) that was to fester for a number of seasons. The notorious period commenced when PNE placed a bid of £650k for Birmingham City’s Nicky Forster, however Forster opted to sign for Reading after allegedly already agreeing terms with PNE.

Forster was apparently travelling to Lancashire on the M6 to sign the contract, when a call was taken and it transpired Reading had matched PNE’s bid and were prepared to offer more money to the player. This prompted a swift 180 on the motorway and a journey south at the very last minute, and Forster signed for Reading instead. The rest, as they say, is history. PNE were justifiably irked to say the least, and their supporters made their feelings known to Forster during every subsequent fixture in which he played.

Underhand tactics or not, Reading had secured themselves a wonderful player who had a happy knack of scoring against PNE as it happens (seven goals in seven appearances including a hat-trick in April 2003). After a slow start in Tommy Burns’ faultering team, Forster went on to be an all-time Royals favourite, scoring some wonderful and notable goals along the way and contributing significantly to the upward trend of the club in the noughties.

Forster was one of the very few players I have watched who was worth the entrance fee alone, purely on the basis that on half a dozen occasions during a season he would win a match on his own. In particular, his performances against Wigan in May 2001, Blackpool in January 2002 and Wigan (again) in December 2003 will live long in the memory,

And then the fuel to the fire, in February 2000 PNE were again outbid by Reading who secured the signature of Martin Butler from Cambridge for £700k. And in a highly amusing twist of events, the very next match was to be at Deepdale, where Nicky Forster scored one of his best goals for Reading and Martin Butler scored a crowd-silencing equaliser in a 2-2 draw (Martin Allen’s antics pre-match will be saved for the return fixture). PNE had the last laugh that season as they won the division, and Reading took two further seasons to obtain the same status, both Butler and Forster suffering career threatening injuries along the way paving the way for one Jamie Cureton to secure legendary status at RFC Towers.

Fact, Interesting Or Otherwise

It is well known that Reading’s record defeat is against PNE, who ran out 18-0 winners in the 1894 FA Cup (that’s an impressive one goal conceded every 5 minutes), and Reading have only played PNE in the FA Cup once more in 2004, a more respectable 3-3 (including two own goals from Michael Jackson and Claude Davis) draw at Deepdale was followed up by an insipid 2-1 defeat giving the Lilywhites their first victory at the Madejski. FA Cup record P3, W0 D1 L2 F3 A23. Nice!

And breaking my own rule straight away, this section cannot go without the amusing mention of both Michael Jackson and Paul McKenna playing in the same PNE side around the turn of the millennium!