Thanks to James Vickers, Preston fan and host of the Championship Roundtable Podcast, for letting us grill him on all things North End-related. You can find him on Twitter @_JamesVickers.
First up, how’s the season gone for Preston so far?
In terms of league position and the way the team has gelled in Alex Neil’s first season in charge it has gone very well so far. When Simon Grayson left on the first day of pre-season, many Preston fans, myself included feared the worse.
Inheriting a previous manager’s squad is a challenge for even the best of managers, and with pre-season well underway Alex Neil somewhat had his hands tied. That being said, he has done a fantastic job so far this season and I thoroughly expect him to continue to take us forward.
The slight disappointment in our season so far has been the issue that leaves us just outside the play-offs rather than inside them, and that’s being clinical in front of goal. Sold in January, it was always going to be hard to replace Jordan Hugill, and since then the goals have somewhat dried up. Maguire has just returned from three and a half months on the treatment table and it’s unfair to him to hinge our play-off hopes on someone who is yet to regain full match fitness and sharpness.
If I were to rate our season so far I would give us 7.5/10, we have gotten ourselves into a fantastic position, and hopefully with six games to go we can capitalise on it and give the play-offs a good go!
You’re just two points off the play-offs as things stand - is promotion to the Premier League realistic in either the short or long term?
Everything is in place at the club for us to be a Premier League side, so I’d like to think at some stage we will get there. The stadium, and newly approved training ground are up to Premier League standards and I think with the right management it’s only a matter of time.
I think, and as much as it pains me to say it, that this season is a season too soon for us but never say never in football. We have a young, hungry squad who are all tied down to long contracts so we are in a position where we only need to sell if the price is right. The squad that we have at the moment has all the promise and talent needed, I think we just lack a little bit of experience which comes with more game time.
Ben Pearson as an example is one yellow card away from picking up his second three game ban in two seasons for fifteen yellow cards. For such a fantastic player, that needs to stop.
As an optimistic Preston fan I’m confident we will get to the Premier League, but there is still work to be done.
Who are the danger-men that Reading fans need to be keeping an eye on?
With no real stand out ‘star players’ it’s hard to single out a couple of players. We are a team that knows its strengths and plays to them, and we work fantastically well as a team. If I were to single out two players to watch though I would say Tom Barkhuizen and Seani Maguire.
Barkhuizen, who we signed for a nominal fee from Morecambe has turned out to be a fantastic piece of business by the club. He can operate out wide on the right hand side, but also looks more than comfortable playing down the middle. With his trickery and lightning pace he is one of our main assets when playing away from home, and with eight goals and seven assists this season he has been one of the main focal points in our attack.
Seani Maguire, who has recent returned from three months out after surgery on his hamstring has picked up where he left off. Coming on as a substitute against Bolton with the score at 1-1 he scored two goals in the final fifteen minutes and immediately showed the Preston fans exactly why he’s the man to fill the void left by Jordan Hugill. While not fully fit yet, he knows where the goal is and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the score sheet on Saturday.
What weaknesses can the Royals look to exploit on Saturday?
I think Reading play us at a good time, we are coming into the game on the back of two defeats in a row at Sheffield Wednesday and at home to Derby County, so our confidence has taken a knock. I would expect Reading to get at us early on and not let us settle. Defensively we have also been a poor over Easter which has been disappointing since we have set ourselves such high standards over the course of the season.
As I mentioned earlier, we have also been wasteful in front of goal in recent weeks which needs to be sorted sooner rather than later. There’s no arguing that if we are to get back into the play offs then we need to start scoring goals. Quickly.
Any special memories of Reading/Preston games down the years, for good or bad reasons?
Reading has been a mixed bag for us in recent years, the main game that sticks out for me is the final game of the 2015/16 season where Daniel Johnson scored a last minute winner after Stephen Quinn has equalised shortly before. Fingers crossed we see a repeat of this come Saturday evening!
How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?
For us now wins are vital. Simple as that. We are currently just outside the play-offs and on paper out of the chasing pack we have the easiest run in since we only need to play one more team in the top eight. That being said Reading currently have everything to play for to climb clear of the relegation places and I’m sure that the players will be looking to impress the new manager.
I expect both teams to come out looking for the win which hopefully will suit us as we seem to play better on the break. If I were to go for a score predication I would go with 2-1 to Preston, but it will be a difficult game where we will have to be at our best to take something away from the Madjeski.
If you would like to follow me on Twitter my handle is @_JamesVickers, I write for a Preston North End fan site - @DeepdaleDigest. You can also catch me each week hosting the @ChampionshipPod for the EPL Index, where we cover the main talking points from around the Championship!