To say yesterday was a disappointing way to end 2019 and the decade would be an understatement. Here is how we rated the performances of the XI Alex Neil put out…

Declan Rudd

Rudd had very little to do other than pick the ball out of his net twice in the first 20 minutes. He should perhaps have done better with the second goal. He looked to have gotten something on it but his tendency to allow his wrists to do impressions of empty crisp packets was showing itself again.

He also did his best to gift Reading a third goal, his blushes spared by the referee who deemed Ejaria’s challenge on him, while he tried to dribble out of his 6-yard box, to be unlawful.

Rating – 5

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Tom Clarke

You’d struggle to find a worse game in a Preston shirt for Tom Clarke than this afternoon. The skipper was again called upon to fill in at right full-back despite Darnell Fisher returning to fitness to make the matchday squad.

Both goals came down Clarke’s side and he was more than culpable for the ease with which Reading made waves on their left-wing. He seemed to half-heartedly hang a leg out in the build-up for the second Reading goal and gave Ovie Ejaria all the time he needed on the ball in the build-up to the first goal.

He was getting a lot of time and space in the channels when we were on the attack and all too often his final ball wasn’t good enough either. A poor performance.

Rating – 5

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Paul Huntington

Hunts again deputised for Bauer, still missing through illness and found himself bullied by Lucas Joao for large parts of the afternoon.

He was arguably at fault for following the direction of the ball for the first goal when John Swift was unmarked in the box and for the second one, both he and Tom Clarke were poor in letting Lucas Joao receive the ball and get a shot off which resulted in the goal.

Rating – 5

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Ben Davies

Arguably the Man of the Match for North End this afternoon, should you be pressed to name one.

Davies was his usual solid, resolute self as the beating heart of the defence. His second-half performance particularly impressed. His composure on the ball and playing forward into midfield when possible was pivotal in a North End performance that would have lacked impetus and initiative when playing out had it not been for his input.

Rating – 7

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Andrew Hughes

Hughes had a rather quiet game. While he put in his usual solid defensive shift, he was uncharacteristically sloppy with his distribution.

His final ball, when he got the opportunity to cross, left plenty to be desired. Not bad but could have been a lot better from Hughesy.

Rating – 6

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Ben Pearson

You really have to feel for Pearson as today was a prime example of how much we rely on him in midfield, particularly against physical sides like Reading.

He was left to do much of the engine room work alone for large parts of the game as Alan Browne looked to get involved further up the pitch.

Pearson then, cannot be solely to blame for John Swift running things in midfield but, often, we see Pearo stick to the opposition’s string-puller a little more effectively than he managed to this afternoon.

Rating – 6

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Alan Browne

It wasn’t the game for Browne, this much was clear from the early stages. He found himself lost in midfield in the early stages as play bypassed him somewhat, with Harrop and Potts seeing a lot of the ball in areas Browne normally likes to operate in while the Irishman sat a little deeper.

He was arguably more effective after the change in approach that saw him deployed at right full-back which in fairness is a position he’s done well in this season.

Rating – 5

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Billy Bodin

Billy powered perhaps our best effort of the game towards the top corner shortly after half time after escaping his marker with some very clever footwork, only to see his shot tipped over by Cabral.

His work on the left also allowed Hughes to cross for Clarke, who put his diving header too close to the keeper as North End pushed to get back into it. Other than this though, he didn’t offer much. Often his first touch was poor and his passing too.

Rating – 5

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Josh Harrop

Despite a bright start, showing agility and vision to play in Potts for his early chance, Harrop soon faded and became ineffective as Reading settled into their defensive banks, meaning Harrop was simply muscled out of the game as soon as the ball came anywhere near him.

His selection, much maligned by fans around me at Deepdale and on social media after the game, is bad in a mainly retrospective way. Should North End have scored early, started on the front foot or simply even not conceded so early, Reading might have been pulled out of their defensive lines and we’d have seen Harrop flourish but, alas, it wasn’t to be.

Rating – 5

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Brad Potts

Potts is getting back to full fitness now, as can be seen by his increasing capacity for running. Like others though, Potts lacked that creativity and clinicality this afternoon, arguably never fully getting over his spurning of a fantastic early chance.

His performance at Elland Road on Boxing Day was better than many of his critics would like to admit and, while he didn’t reach that level again today, he is definitely showing signs of getting back to the player we know he can be. People need to lay off him and other players a bit to be honest.

Rating – 5

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Sean Maguire

Seani has come under scrutiny a lot recently, some fair, some less so. This afternoon’s showing epitomised more of the negative sides of his game that have been getting some fans riled up of late.

Although he must be commended for occasionally coming deep to try to collect the ball and inject some direction into play, his end product was woeful and he wasted a couple of golden opportunities in the second half. Most notably, he planted a header straight down the keeper’s throat from 8 yards away.

As was alluded to in the ‘5 Things’ piece we published, it probably wouldn’t do Seani any harm to have a bit of a rest.

Rating – 5

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Substitutes

Tom Barkhuizen

Taking his impact alone, Barkhuizen was the spark that we needed in the second half. While he was ultimately not helped by being introduced too late, his pace and being an option as an outlet ball were apparent from the outset and really put Reading on the back foot for the first time in the game.

Rating – 6

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Paul Gallagher

Introduced at the same time as Barkhuizen, Gallagher’s entrance helped North End get a grip on the midfield as he resumed his “quarterback” style role, spraying the ball out to the flanks and putting in some tricky deep crosses, notably the one that leads to Maguire’s golden opportunity.

Rating – 6

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Jayden Stockley

The 20 minutes given to Stockley were meagre, considering it was widely assumed among fans that he would play from the start, especially with David Nugent being out with a knock.

Stockley’s aerial presence provided the chance to send balls into the area but, along with the theme of how and when North End threatened this afternoon, this proved to be too little too late. He did have a half-chance at the end but it just wasn’t to be.

Rating – 5

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Finally, if you want a bit of cheering up heading into the New Year and want to forget about the Reading game, then why not give part of From the Finney Meets… Graham Alexander a listen?

Hit the play button on the player below this and off you pop. If you haven’t yet listened to part 1, you can find that below too. Let us know what you think of the episode on our twitter page – @fromthefinney.