Match Preview: Preston North End vs. Reading


We’re back on Sky Sports this weekend as Alex Neil’s men face an inconsistent Reading side who find themselves sat 5th in the Championship table. This game is one of only four Championship fixtures this weekend as both sides were knocked out of the F.A. Cup in the third round.

The visitors were beaten away to Luton Town by a goal to nil whereas North End took a slightly heavier beating, losing 4-1 away at Wycombe Wanderers. However, it means both clubs can forget about domestic cups and focus on their respective league capaigns.

Reading come into the game on Sunday looking to build on an impressive 3-0 win against Coventry City last time out and will be looking to extend their unbeaten run to five games.

North End, on the other hand, will also be looking to make it back to back wins after they put on a fantastic second-half display against Birmingham in a deserved 1-0 win on Wednesday night. A win that moved us up into the top half of the table and I have no doubt that Alex and the boys will be looking to gain ground on those desired play-off places.

Potential Dangers

I think this section practically selects itself this weekend. The first player I would pick out as a potential danger is the obvious one; Lucas João. 

The striker is currently the 3rd top goal scorer in the Championship this season with 14 goals in 18 appearances so far this season. In addition to this, he’s also scored a hat trick in his one Carabao Cup appearance this campaign.

Embed from Getty Images

The Portuguese centre-forward has the second-highest shot accuracy of the top 10 goalscorers in the league, 1% below 1st place who is none other than our very own Scott Sinclair. 

But João is a massive threat in this Reading side. He’s strong, he’s quick and he’s clearly very clinical and his heading ability is something our centre halves are going to have to watch out for.

As for the second player, I’m going to go with Michael Olise. Only 19 years of age, Olise has taken the Championship by storm this campaign and has attracted a lot of interest from Premier League clubs such as Liverpool and Chelsea. Both Premier League sides have apparently been eyeing up what has been described as a ‘tempting’ release clause. 

The attacking midfielder has registered the most assists in the Championship this season with 8 to his name. Add this to his 4 goals and he’s undoubtedly a threat and you can guarantee he will be looking to add to those this weekend. The teenager usually plays in a more central role but can also play out wide which may be an area that the Royals look to exploit after the joy that Birmingham had down our right-hand side in the first half on Wednesday night. 

Whether he is still at Reading by the end of the window remains to be seen, but he certainly will be someone that needs to be tracked and might be a job for Ryan Ledson should he be selected, as the tricky winger will need to have a close eye on him from someone in a Lilywhite shirt.

Finally, I normally only choose two players for this section but I think it’s worth giving an honourable mention to John Swift. The highly-rated midfielder is always a goal threat and after seeing his free-kick on Tuesday night, I wouldn’t put it past him scoring again. The free-kick sealed the victory for Reading in midweek and was good enough to win any game of football as it swerved past Ben Wilson in the Coventry goal from all but 25 yards out. 

Opposition View

For this week’s opposition view, we send our thanks to the folks over at @ElmParkRoyals. I also did a preview on their podcast which you can find below.

20/21 has been a whirlwind for Reading fans so far, with fans expectations being completely shattered.

After what was a rocky summer with only one new permanent signing joining and a manager leaving shortly before the start of the season it was easy to see why.

However, after an incredible start winning 7 of our first 8 games, it was clear that the introduction of Veljko Paunovic has brought about a new attacking mindset in the side which fans haven’t seen in the club for the best part of a decade.

With Lucas Joao chasing the top goalscorer award, 14 goals in 18, along with key defensive contributions from much improved Liam Moore, the side have raised expectations to the point where many think it would now be a disappointment if we miss the playoffs.

Last time out, Reading lost 3-0 at home to Preston in what only could be described as a bloodbath. Young Tom McIntyre had a nightmare at centre back, making his first start of the season, giving away both a penalty and being at fault for one of the goals.

Embed from Getty Images

Since then, he has shown rapid progression and is forming a solid partnership with Morrison whilst Liam Moore remains on the sideline.

Reading will also have both John Swift, and Ovie Ejaria available to them this weekend, plus a newly found resilience. The more I look back at the side we had out earlier in the season against Preston, the more I realise how badly Reading have been struck by injuries this season.

From the side that played earlier this year – Moore, Swift, Ejaria, and Meite alone were all out of this game, and that is before we lost our other 2 strikers in Puscas and Joao! Thankfully, it appears like a lot of those are behind us currently and we go into the game on Sunday only really missing Liam Moore and Yakou Meite (who may be back potentially) from the starting XI.

There is unlikely to be any changes from the side that beat Coventry in midweek 3-0, outside potentially Tom Holmes, the first victory of what Veljko has dubbed “payback month”, with Rafael in goal, a back four (L-R) of Omar Richards, Tom McIntyre, Michael Morrison, Tomas Esteves. They’ll be shielded by the ever-presents of Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent. Going forwards, Ovie Ejaria will play wide left, John Swift behind the striker, and Michael Olise on the right. Lucas João will lead the line.

It feels like the home form for Preston has been patchy at best so far this season, with only 4 victories, and with only 10 goals scored at home, I’d be surprised if Reading collapsed as they did in the reserve fixture.

I am going to go for a 2-1 Reading victory.


As for my prediction, I think this will depend on how organised we are at the back. When we played Reading in the reverse fixture, barring one or two saves forced out of Declan Rudd when the scores were level and of course that superb tackle from Jordan Storey to halt Lucas João as he was bearing down on goal, I never felt that Reading posed much of a threat.

In saying that, there was a lot of positives to take from the Birmingham victory midweek and Reading won’t be expecting us to roll over in this one, despite our home form this season. New signing Jayson Molumby, put on a stellar performance on Wednesday night in quite ridiculous conditions and there were notable performances from Emil Riis, Ben Whiteman and especially in the second half, Scott Sinclair. We certainly do hold a threat of our own.

I would quite like to see the midfield three of Ryan Ledson, Ben Whiteman and Jayson Molumby start again come Sunday afternoon as I felt it had a really solid balance to it, especially with Jayson Molumby starting the high press which was very effective, particularly in the second half.

I also thought the back 4 was brilliant in midweek, again with it not being easy to defend in such conditions and Alan Browne put in yet another captain’s performance at right-back that I felt went unnoticed on the whole.

Embed from Getty Images

As for the top end of the pitch, I really hope Alex Neil sticks with Emil Riis for this game as I think it proved in the second half in the Midlands how much he stretches the game and links up play so well. 

Granted he had a bit of a nightmare in the first half, constantly being beaten by Birmingham’s offside trap that was brave to say the least. But, in the second half, Riis improved and timed a number of his runs to perfection and was quality with the way he was bringing people like Brad Potts and Scott Sinclair into play and creating chances for them.

For a starting XI I will go with one change from the midweek win with: Iversen; Browne, Huntington, Davies, Hughes; Whiteman, Ledson; Barkhuizen, Molumby, Sinclair; Riis. 

Although I do think Brad Potts grew into the game a lot more in the second half, I think Barkhuizen deserves to come back in after what In my opinion was a decent individual performance from him away at Bristol City. 

As for a scoreline, I’m going to go with 1-1 as something tells me a league double over Reading isn’t very likely, but I’ll happily be proved wrong. Hopefully we will see some more of the action in which we enjoyed in the second half against the Blues and another 3 points to move us closer to that top 6 in front of the Sky Sports cameras.

If you haven’t listened to the post-Birmingham episode of the From the Finney podcast, you can find that below. We’re also on Twitter here – @fromthefinney.