Back in August 2013, Tom Barkhuizen scored the only goal as the Royals lost 1-0 to Blackpool, a result that saw the Tangerines, then managed by Paul Ince, go top of the Championship on goal difference.
Times change – but having played no more than a handful of games at this level since and having spent much of the intervening period at Morecambe, Barkhuizen was back to torment Reading on Saturday, scoring twice as his new club, Blackpool’s bitterest rivals Preston cruised to a comfortable 3-0 win.
The day started promisingly with an easy and atypically inexpensive train journey whisking me up to Lancashire, pre-match craft ale and pizza in the superb Morebrook pub and mild weather that bore no relation to the downpour that greeted Royals fans on our last visit to Deepdale.
Not that any more than a hardcore grouping will have been present on both occasions, mind. No more than 300 or so seemed to be in the away end, continuing this season’s tradition of underwhelming crowds.
Hence, the game got underway quietly, the cries of the players audible and Reading, for the most part, imposing their passing style on the game.
Not that the team was dominating. Preston also belied their reputation as a typical Simon Grayson long ball outfit by also keeping the ball on the floor, while the Lilywhites snapped into the tackle in a manner that Reading had not had to endure from a strangely lacklustre Newcastle the previous Tuesday.
Most of Reading's efforts were from range and for all the ability to keep possession, it was only when Garath McCleary might jink past an opponent to create space or one of Joey van den Berg’s exemplary Hollywood passes came off that tiny openings would appear.
An early shout for a penalty for a challenge on John Swift has been spoken of but unsighted as I was a hundred yards away, I could not possibly comment. McCleary’s fierce drive did get us out of our seats, however – stinging the fingertips of Chris Maxwell.
It had been a relatively encouraging half hour from the Royals with Van den Berg’s marshalling of the play again in evidence after his outstanding contribution against the Magpies but a clever chipped pass from Ben Pearson, who was to become increasingly influential as the game wore on, caught out Tyler Blackett and Daryl Horgan capitalised before setting the ball up to a tee for Barkhuizen to sweep elegantly into the top left hand corner.
Heads dropped alarmingly from then on and Reading’s midfield and defence did a passable impression of the parting of the Red Sea for the Whites’ second goal before half time. Barkhuizen was heavily involved and Horgan stabbed home at the second attempt after what looked like a clear handball. Deliberate, however, it probably wasn’t – and no Royals player rushed to the referee.
The match was over as a contest early in the second period after two men were left free from a free kick and Barkhuizen scuffed the ball past Ali-Al Habsi. Thereon after, Pearson controlled the match from in front of the Reading defence and the Royals managing to create only sporadic chances, most of which trickled into Maxwell’s arms.
Reading came from behind to win thrillingly at Bristol City over the festive season but have generally struggled when going behind and the first goal remains ever crucial in Championship matches. As soon as Barkhuizen struck first, the chances of overcoming a Preston side with solidity built into their DNA would be slim and the passing needed a whole lot more zip to succeed.
Instead, their confidence knocked, the Royals players were always playing catch-up. However, that the general tendency this season has been to bounce back well from poor results is something we should not forget.