First home win on a Saturday
One of the worst statistics of 2017-18 for Reading was the fact that they had failed to win a home game all season on a Saturday, with their previous four home victories this season taking place on either a Friday or a Tuesday - meaning that they had been unable to win all 13 of their Saturday home games prior to the Preston game. Thankfully for the Royals and manager Paul Clement it was 14th time lucky as Modou Barrow’s headed goal from Liam Kelly’s free-kick in the 12th minute handed them a 1-0 victory and a hugely important three points in the relegation battle. Hopefully, with two home fixtures on a Saturday out of their five remaining games against Sunderland and Ipswich, there will be a few more wins for Reading fans to celebrate at the Madejski on a Saturday!
Centre-backs make the difference
After Barrow’s goal gave Reading an early lead, Preston dominated the game with 61% possession and 17 shots but the Royals were able to hold on to the lead and snatch a vital win and this was largely due to the efforts of the two centre-backs Liam Moore and Tiago Ilori. They made 10 interceptions between them and whilst Ilori made five clearances, Moore made a mammoth 24 as a clean sheet was kept and ensured Barrow’s goal was enough to win it. Moore has been back to his best under Paul Clement and looks like a true leader and fighter in defence, which is the sort of player you need in a relegation fight. Ilori, however, has put in some very disappointing performances this season and made errors which have cost Reading goals and points. He is clearly a very talented defender with the ball at his feet and performances such as the one against Preston show that he can be a very good player for Reading and hopefully he can put them in on a more consistent basis from now on.
Change in manager working?
After one win in Reading’s last 18 games saw Jaap Stam lose his job, Paul Clement has provided the so called “new manager bounce” so far that every club hopes for when they install a new boss, with two wins for the Royals in his first three games in charge. Obviously there are still five games to play and with Reading just five points off the relegation zone, they are still far from safe. But if Clement is able to continue in the same vein as he has begun his time at Reading, then it looks as though he will be able to keep the Royals in the league and would therefore vindicate the owners’ decision to sack Stam.
Barnsley’s game in hand
Barnsley are the team currently sitting in the third relegation slot and they got a massively important win on Saturday as well, coming from 2-1 down against play-off chasing Sheffield United to win 3-2. The Tykes also have a game in hand over all of the other teams fighting relegation, including Reading, and the result that they get from that game could have a massive say on which teams are to go down. As I have already noted, just five points separate Reading from Barnsley and should they pick up a win from their game in hand, that gap becomes just two. Meanwhile, the gap between Reading and the relegation zone would become just three. That game in hand (against Nottingham Forest) could be one of the most important games of Reading’s season and they aren’t even playing in it!
Omar Richards made his first appearance for Reading since February after struggling with injury. The 20-year-old left-back has impressed for the Royals in his 12 appearances this season, but was clearly not fully fit against Preston, leading to Paul Clement withdrawing him at half-time. “It was a gamble not because of his ability, but we knew there were issues about his physical condition.” admitted Clement after the game. “He’s been out for five or six weeks and only done two full training sessions with the team so he is out of condition. That was as much as we got out of him - he had a bit of difficulty because they hit a lot of balls out wide. So I took him off to protect him and reorganise but it worked out best for the team.”