Rafael; Richards, McIntyre, Morrison, Holmes; Laurent, Rinomhota; Ejaria, Swift, Aluko; Joao.
Preston were determined to stifle the Royals’ game from the get go, evident in not only many a North End man conceding a free kick, but ensuring the visitors were not able to take it quickly. Despite some fantastic deliveries from John Swift, really coming into his own again for the first time since his return from injury, the home side were content with dealing with this aerial threat, as opposed to letting the Royals play.
Due to Reading’s ability from set plays, Preston were not entirely comfortable, perhaps suggesting that they were better off letting the Royals have the ball – crowding out Swift, Lucas Joao and Ovie Ejaria in particular, whenever they’d reach the opposition penalty area. Swift himself had to drop in deep and move from flank to flank in order to orchestrate some form of attacks, sometimes being guilty of not hitting it early enough before Preston’s defenders forced him away from goal.
However, thanks to Reading’s clinical nature in front of goal, North End knew that one chance may well win the game for the away side. That almost came from Swift himself – a teasing ball forcing Joe Rafferty into fouling Joao for the big moment of the game.
Besides the penalty miss, Reading did not quite do enough in attack to win the game, but looked far from leaky at the back as they recorded their third clean sheet in four. As well as Tom McIntyre and Michael Morrison again showing their solidity at the back, it was by far a team effort from the Royals.
Both Ejaria and Sone Aluko, out in the wide positions, tracked back to help prevent Preston from delivering crosses into the box, also tracking the runners drifting into wide positions. Preston’s attacking threat in general was poor, but Reading looked to ensure that they didn’t concede early and be left with an uphill battle.
Despite some slow, broken-up play on the ball, Reading made sure Preston’s spell lasted less than 45 minutes and did not result in many clear-cut opportunities, while letting them have as much of the ball in non-threatening areas as they liked. In the second period, they came out with some more confidence and took the game to their opposition, but still looked to remain cautious, both Omar Richards and Tom Holmes not venturing too far forwards.
In the attacking areas, Aluko did stand out as the slight weak point, Reading crying out for Michael Olise to cause some mayhem in the North End defence, individual bits of skill shining through for the Royals throughout the game.
However, just as in the Coventry game, the cohesiveness is not quite at the level we’ve seen when at its best. Joao once more had to drop in deep to pick up the ball but, without the Preston defenders following him, rarely could Reading then find a way to get in behind, usually playing in front of 10 men and struggling to move the ball quickly enough to find that winning goal.
However, on another day, Reading may well have gotten the win, having already shown many times this season that they are a side who can win when not at their best.