To be honest, I’d forgotten what it felt like to see Reading win. I’ve only seen that happen in the league three times this calendar year - home victories over Queens Park Rangers and Preston, and now an away triumph also against the Lilywhites. In fact, the last time I had the pleasure of writing a TTE match report for an away win I’d watched in person was all the way back in February 2016, that thrilling 4-3 win at Charlton Athletic.
To also call Reading’s 3-2 victory at Preston North End “thrilling” would be quite a stretch - in reality, the match was devoid of quality for vast stretches. But, as Wimb pointed out to me after the game, it’s so refreshing to see the Royals take advantage of another team not playing very well and actually getting the three points.
How did we manage it? To be honest, I’m not quite sure. Reading weren’t noticeably good going forwards or at the back but, simply put, we made three good chances and took them. We did have to ride our luck at times down our end, with Preston hitting the woodwork and league debutant Sam Walker pulling off some top saves, but getting the favour of Lady Luck is something in itself.
How Reading set up
After seeing his team struggle through a lack of presence in the centre of the park, Paul Clement opted for three midfielders on the day; Liam Kelly partnering Leandro Bacuna deep whilst John Swift pushed on. Out wide, Sone Aluko took the right flank and Yakou Meite the left, with Sam Baldock preferred as the lone striker. The back four was unchanged from the 2-1 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, Chris Gunter keeping his spot at right-back, and Sam Walker replaced the injured Vito Mannone.
To Reading’s credit, they tried to do football The Right Way, opting to play through the lines rather than hoofing it up top, hence the selection of Swift and Baldock. That said, in the absence of top-scorer Bodvarsson, Clement’s side lacked an obvious focal point.
Indeed, the home side had the better of the opening stages, Tom Barkhuizen missing a few half-chances before crashing a powerful header against the woodwork. However, it was Reading who took the lead against the run of play, John Swift feeding Super Sammy Baldock who smashed a shot home for his first Royals goal from open play.
Daniel Johnson, scorer of a late winner at the Mad Stad in April 2016, found the net against us once more albeit in fortuitous circumstances. A shot was blocked by Liam Moore in the area, only for Johnson’s follow-up effort to deflect into the net past a stranded Walker. Preston would have a few more chances before the break thanks to errors from Chris Gunter and Tiago Ilori in the build-up, with Kelly forcing a save down the other end.
All eyes after the break were, predictably, on Reading’s net due to our record of conceding just after the restart, but a well-worked set piece routine made sure the tables were turned. On 52 minutes, an Aluko corner went short to Swift who held the ball up as Aluko darted round the back - Swift played it back to his teammate, Aluko pulling it back for Ilori to tuck home. All in all, the kind of intelligent, clever team goal from a dead ball that we just haven’t been seeing.
Preston pressed on (sorry) in their hunt for an equaliser and got it on 76 minutes, Callum Robinson touching home to make it 2-2. Neither side had stood out to that point but, given Reading’s morale problems this season, that goal felt to me like it had been coming. The away end slumped in dejection - another lead in Lancashire blown.
We all know that this Reading squad is capable of winning games, but the team themselves seemed to have forgotten. Especially when throwing a lead away from home that would have given us our first league win since April, heads drop - understandably. At times like that, you need players to step up and take the initiative.
Enter stage right, Josh Sims.
The Southampton loanee has so far had to make do with cameo appearances, being introduced from the bench rather than trusted from the start. However, with a moment of magic on the right flank, he’s done no harm to his chances of breaking into the first team.
With 10 mins of normal time left to go, Reading countered on Preston through the middle before Kelly played in Sims on the right wing. Rather than cutting inside onto his stronger left foot, the youngster trusted his pace - and his weaker right peg - by charging to the byline and chipping the ball back in for Bacuna. 3-2 Reading.
Although the hosts would press forwards to get another equaliser, in truth they didn’t come too close. That third goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of them with passes going astray and Walker comfortably dealing with shots from range.
WNG: Win next game
Paul Clement and his players have spoken this season about how the team hasn’t been that far away from turning the corner. We’ve typically not been hugely outclassed, instead coming out on the wrong end of fine margins and/or letting ourselves down with individual errors.
On the whole, Reading didn’t make huge strides away from that at Deepdale, and there was certainly a lot to be desired from the performance. However, when the big moments came up in the game, we got on the right side of them - important saves from Walker, getting lucky with Preston hitting the woodwork, and of course putting away our chances.
The manager will therefore still have plenty of work to do on the training ground, but his job will be that bit easier now that confidence is that bit higher. Reading have remembered what it is to win a league game - the team can’t afford to forget again.
What did you think of the match? Let us know in the comments below.