Strange stats for strange times. Preston have been utterly useless on their own ground this season, losing all five of their Championship fixtures at Deepdale.
But whenever they take to the road, Alex Neil’s team become a very different beast. This was a fourth away victory from five, with the other one drawn. There must be something weirdly comforting for Preston about the motorway miles and the long hours on the team bus.
This win against Championship pace-setters Reading counts as their most impressive yet. The Royals could have ended the night six points clear at the top, instead they were thoroughly second best.
Scott Sinclair scored the opener and Preston North End continued their hot streak
Reading (4-1-3-2): Rafael (c); Esteves (Yiadom 76), Morrison, McIntyre, Richards; Laurent; Rinomhota, Semedo, Olise (Baldock 71); Aluko (Puscas 68), Joao
Substitutes not used: Walker (GK); Gibson, Watson, Tetek
Manager: Veljko Paunovic
Preston North End (4-2-3-1): Rudd; Fisher, Storey, Huntington, Rafferty; Browne (c), Ledson; Sinclair (Barkhuizen 77), Johnson, Potts; Riis
Substitutes not used: Ripley (GK); Earl, Gallagher, Harrop, Maguire, Stockley
Manager: Alex Neil
Scorers: Sinclair 64; Riis 68; Potts 90+2
Missed penalty: Johnson 49
Booked: Fisher, Browne
Referee: John Brooks (Leicestershire)
Nobody enjoys an away day more than Preston’s Scott Sinclair. Five goals this season and none on home turf. This was one of the simpler ones but still required being in the right place at the right time, prodding beneath Reading keeper Rafael Cabral after just about managing to stay onside.
Emil Riis doubled Preston’s lead four minutes later and Reading had no response. The Dane rounded off a fast break by slipping onto Ryan Ledson’s pass and poking low into the net.
And they wrapped things up beautifully on the counter in stoppage time, with Brad Potts slamming home the third after Tom Barkhuizen advanced down the right to cross.
They were the first league goals Reading have conceded at the Madejski Stadium all season and the honeymoon may be over for new manager Veljko Paunovic after back-to-back losses.
The scoreline might have been more emphatic but for a collector’s item penalty miss by Daniel Johnson and if Preston can now sort their home form out they might be play-off candidates.
The respective league positions counted for very little early on with Preston quickest into their rhythm. They seem to adopt a braver approach on the road and bossed the possession and initial chances once again.
Rafferty’s second-minute free-kick was headed clear only as far as Potts, lurking on the edge of the penalty box, but he snatched at his effort which bounced wide.
Tom McIntyre fouled Riis 25 yards from goal – an apparently contentious decision by the referee that prompted a volley of echoing expletives from the home dug-out.
After much discussion amongst those in green shirts, Alan Browne stepped up and sent a dipping free-kick just over the crossbar.
Moments later, McIntyre was done for pace by Riis, who steamed into the penalty box but dragged a left-footed shot across goal and harmlessly wide.
It had been all Preston but as the half-hour approached, the league leaders finally sparked into life.
Sone Aluko collected the ball on the left, worked space to cross and found the head of Reading’s leading scorer this season, Lucas Joao.
The Portuguese forward met it sweetly, a looping header that was goalbound until Preston keeper Declan Rudd, diving to his left, somehow clawed the ball to safety.
Preston have been hapless at home but maintained their undefeated away record
Reading could have gone six points clear at the top of the Championship with a win
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A few minutes later and Aluko was picked out inside the box by Michael Olise. Despite the tight marking of two defenders, Aluko flicked the ball over their heads into a pocket of space before hitting a volley that Rudd blocked with his feet.
But Reading shot themselves in the foot just two minutes into the second half. Riis once again got away from McIntyre and burst into the box. The defender may have slipped a little but undoubtedly brought the Preston man down and referee John Brooks pointed to the spot.
Johnson placed the ball on the spot, crouched over it, did a stuttered run-up and then watched in horror as Rafael got down to repel his kick. It was the first penalty Johnson has missed for Preston, having scored all 15 previously outside of shoot-outs.
Reading almost made Preston pay shortly afterwards when Olise won back possession in midfield and slipped Joao clean through. As he pulled the trigger, Jordan Storey got across to make a crucial tackle. a
Tomas Esteves then crossed from the right but Joao, not too far out, guided his header wide.
It had taken an hour but the game was alive. Down the other end, Rafael made a crucial, scrambling save to deny Potts at point-blank range following Ryan Ledson’s cross.
But Preston wouldn’t be down for too long with Sinclair handing them a 64th-minute before Riis doubled the lead four minutes later.
Reading tried to rally but the closest they came as a George Puscas header that dropped wide three minutes from the end.
Tempers flared at times as pace-setters Reading were well beaten by Preston North End