Reading haven’t had the best of starts to their league campaign (ahem), but things aren’t too much better for Saturday’s opposition Preston North End. The Lancashire side went into the international break 19th in the Championship, having not won since the opening day of the season.
To get the Preston view ahead of the match, we spoke to the host of the Championship Roundtable Podcast: James Vickers.
Could you give us an overview of how the season’s gone so far?
Very underwhelming to be honest. After being one of the teams fancied by bookmakers we have been very poor by the standards that we have set over the previous two seasons.
Tough fixtures and poor form from key players has coupled together to make a poor start from us and hopefully we can address those areas of concern sooner rather than later. If we are to challenge for the play-offs again this season we really need to start picking up points quickly and hopefully that will start this weekend against Reading.
Who’s to blame for Preston’s slow start? Is Alex Neil’s job under threat?
I think a few factors have played a part and it has all added up, the first being the fixtures that we have had. Playing Derby County, Norwich City, Stoke City and Swansea City in the opening few weeks was never going to be easy but, that being said, the Norwich and Derby performances were completely unacceptable going by the standards we set under Alex Neil last season. Being on the wrong end of a result but playing well is something I can live with, but the manner of the defeats left a sour taste in my mouth.
The second reason, and one that doesn’t sit well with most Preston fans at present, is the fact that Neil hasn’t been given backing in the transfer window. Selling Jordan Hugill (£10m) and Greg Cunningham (£2m) were big sales for the club and most of us, myself included, expected some of that to be reinvested into the playing squad.
After a full summer transfer window in which we mostly signed players from Ireland and on loan I think sadly we just don’t have the depth of quality at the moment to compete for the play-offs. Neil shouldn’t be under pressure at the moment but if the results carry on I think that may change. Watch this space…
Any fond memories of games against Reading in years gone by?
Personally the second last game of the 2015/16 season for me in which we scored a late winner through a Daniel Johnson strike. The whole trip was a good one to be honest and summed up our season of hanging on to the very end and proving difficult to beat, a trait that we have carried with us throughout our time back in the Championship.
The rest of the weekend was very good as well as we decided to stay over in Reading and ended up in Yates while the Chuckle Brothers were doing a meet and greet! So that trip is definitely my favourite in recent years!
And any you’d rather forget?
A complete opposite to the point’s I’d made above. It was probably our worst performance of the season and, couple that with the fact that you (Bucks Royal from TTE) saw me at the game and reminded me just how poor we’d been, it was quite a forgettable trip!
Editor’s note: I did indeed remind James how poor Preston had been.
After that game however, we rediscovered our form and made a last-minute push for the play-offs but ultimately fell short by two points. If we had been up for the game at the Madejski Stadium then who knows how our season would have ended?
Who’s your biggest danger man at the moment?
To be honest not many of the squad have covered themselves in glory so far this season with numerous poor performances and stupid bookings and red cards, but if I were to single out a player to watch I would have to say Alan Browne.
Browne, for the last 12 months or so, has completely transformed his game and become an indispensable member of the starting eleven. Goals from midfield - some spectacular ones at that (see his strikes against Bolton Wanderers this season and Bristol City last season) have got the team out of jail on more than one occasion.
If he carries on in this form it is only a matter of time until a bigger team comes calling for him and he would be a massive loss if that were to happen.
Any tips for Reading fans making the journey up to Deepdale?
Wrap up warm! Or at least get a few ales down you before getting to the ground! The best place for away fans to drink is at the Old Vic just outside the station, from there the ground is about a 20-minute walk so allow yourself enough time to make your way through the high street and across to Deepdale.
Outside the Old Vic on some home games there are shuttle buses running for away fans. If there are on Saturday, I’d recommend making use of those as I know how long that walk to the ground can be, especially after a few beers!
How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?
To be honest, both teams have had poor starts to the season and both are in vital need of a win so I’d expect the game to be a cagey affair to start, with the first goal being crucial. That said I think that, being the home side, the pressure will be on us to come out and attack but in recent games we have been woeful defensively so I’m not sure that will be the case.
I’d expect score-wise it to be won by a single goal, so if I were to put a bet on I would say 1-0 to Preston. But, after seeing us so far this season, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Reading came away with at least a point.
Thanks to James for previewing the game - you can him on Twitter here and his podcast here.