clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Preston North End 2-1 Reading: In Deep(dale) Trouble

Reading looked set for a fourth straight 1-1 draw after Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan’s late equaliser, only for Brad Potts to strike in injury time.

Preston North End v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Easter 2022 feels like a hell of a long time ago, doesn’t it? Back then, Reading simply didn’t know when they were beaten, winning late on at Bramall Lane on the Good Friday before sealing a dramatic 4-4 at the death on the Easter Monday. The seasonal theme of rebirth was on full display and the Royals effectively secured Championship safety as a result.

Easter 2023 has been the opposite though. This is an aimless, regressing Reading side unable to rouse itself, unable to wake up to the stark, looming prospect of relegation which looks increasingly certain. Drawing a must-win game on Good Friday against Birmingham City was one damning result, and Easter Monday’s late defeat to Preston North End was another.

Don’t be fooled by the scoreline. Preston may have snatched all three points inside injury time after Reading had equalised, heartbreakingly denying us a valuable draw on the road, but in reality they were more than deserving of the victory over the 90 minutes. Really, we’re fortunate that the points weren’t wrapped up in the first half.

There’s not a lot new to be said about the game itself for anyone who’s paid any attention to Reading away matches this season. The Royals were hopelessly crap for the first 70 minutes or so, looking entirely unconvincing all across the park, seemingly waiting to concede. If Reading had any tactics today beyond “hope they don’t score” and “hope we win a set piece and maybe we’ll score”, they weren’t evident.

The starting XI was pretty standard fare. Reading returned to 3-5-2 after deploying a 4-4-2 against Birmingham City, with Lucas Joao pairing Andy Carroll up top, Scott Dann forming a back three with Tom Holmes and Naby Sarr, Mamadou Loum restored to midfield after suspension and Nesta Guinness-Walker starting at left-wing-back.

Lumley; Holmes, Dann, Sarr; Yiadom, Hendrick, Loum, Casadei, Guinness-Waker; Joao, Carroll

We all know that deploying a slow back three like that isn’t a good idea, while that strike pairing is obviously terrible but I’ve long since given up trying to work out why Ince thinks it works. I didn’t dislike the setup completely though. Moving to a back three for this game was the right call, while getting Loum into the team theoretically allowed Cesare Casadei to push forward and Guinness-Walker theoretically can put crosses in for Carroll.

Theory is one thing, practice is another. No, Casadei did not push forward effectively with Loum as cover, and no, Guinness-Walker barely put in any crosses for Carroll. One of the most painfully frustrating things about this team is that, even when you see how things could work, they never actually come off. It’s the inevitable outcome of a season without tactical coherence or basic improvement. Reading make things up as they go along.

Down the other end, Preston found it all too easy to get at Reading and create chances: a few before the break should have been converted, while one after the interval was. On 56 minutes, the hosts sliced through the Royals like a knife through butter (a metaphor that’s a tad harsh as butter has more tactical nous than this Reading side) with Thomas Cannon making it 1-0.

Just after the 70-minute mark, Paul Ince finally realised that it was actually a bad thing to not intervene when his team was playing badly and losing. To ironic cheers from the away end, who’d long been chanting for Ince to use his bench, the Royals made a triple sub: Andy Carroll, Tom Holmes and Mamadou Loum replaced by Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, Femi Azeez and Tyrese Fornah. That meant switching from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2:

Lumley; Yiadom, Dann, Sarr, Guinness-Walker; Azeez, Hendrick, Casadei, Fornah; Ehibhatiomhan, Joao

While I wasn’t all that keen on Dann staying on instead of Holmes, the rest of that tactical alteration worked well. It was a pretty bold switch from Ince, moving his side to a 4-4-2 that required Reading to play on the front foot - just what was required. With a lack of options on the bench, he couldn’t really have done much more.

The subs pretty quickly changed the flow of the game in Reading’s favour. All of a sudden we looked markedly more comfortable and coherent going forwards, getting the ball up the pitch more quickly, although the quality wasn’t quite there in the final third…

…until Ehibhatiomhan had other ideas. Guinness-Walker went over to the right flank and launched in a long throw - one which looked to me in real time to have dropped too short to cause any danger. Ehibhatiomhan knew exactly what he was doing though, meeting the delivery at the near post and nodding it over the ‘keeper at a narrow angle for 1-1. Cue bewilderment and sheer relief in the away end.

Yes, the afternoon ended horribly, but I’m still delighted for Ehibhatiomhan. Scoring your first senior league goal in front of the away end to put your team level must be one hell of a feeling - it’s a huge shame that it was ultimately little more than a consolation.

Reading needed to hold on though and - shock - they couldn’t. In a manner painfully reminiscent of the Blackburn Rovers defeat, the Royals conceded late on to surrender what would have been a valuable - and unlikely - point. In this case from a corner, cheaply given away by Fornah and converted by Brad Potts.

Although we’d later go pretty close to another equaliser through Azeez (shot blocked after interplay with Ehibhatiomhan) and Yiadom (volley wide after a corner), getting any result today would have been a robbery. Reading simply weren’t good enough for vast swathes of the contest and a late rally - with the only major bit of quality a nice goal from a set piece - didn’t come close to making up for our shortcomings.

If we can’t get three points in a winnable home game and can’t hold out for one on the road, I really don’t know where the results are going to come from. Reading need them - quickly - and the substance of tactical setups and performances don’t suggest we’re getting close.

At this point the only real hope comes from sacking the manager - one who takes Reading’s plight so seriously as to laugh when asked about his future at the club. How else can the Royals conjure a jolt in performances and results to stay in the division? Ince should have gone a while ago though - I switched to Ince Out after the defeat to Millwall on March 11 - so I won’t get too hopeful of a change being made in the dugout.

In the meantime, all we can do is hope. But I don’t blame anyone who’s given that up.