The yellows put on one of their best away displays of the season to defeat Reading at the Madejski Stadium.
After dominating the first half, but only coming in level due to the brilliance of Ali Al Habsi in the home side’s goal, Jermaine Beckford opened the scoring just before the hour mark and despite Stephen Quinn’s late equaliser, Daniel Jonson powered home from Adam Reach’s pull back to give the travelling fans one last away win in an excellent first season back in the Championship guaranteeing a top half finish.
Skipper Tom Clarke picked up a calf problem in training on Friday and with Ben Pearson not quite 100 per cent after his ankle injury against Burnley, there were two changes for the yellows; Paul Huntington and Daniel Johnson replacing them.
Prior to kick-off home ’keeper Ali Al Habsi was presented with the Royals’ player of the year award and in the first half he showed why, standing in the way of the Lilywhites and a cricket score lead.
Simon Grayson’s side had anything but the flip flops on and put on one of their best displays of the campaign with slick passing, movement and creating chances, however, the only disappointment being that they didn’t take any of the gilt-edged chances they gave themselves.
The home side had the first chance of the game, Brian McDermott’s men finding Deniss Rakels on the edge of the box and his shot deflected off Bailey Wright and just wide with Chris Kirkland stranded, but after this, for the remaining 40 minutes of the first half the former Liverpool stopper was a mere spectator.
The real chances started 15 minutes in as Calum Woods collected an excellent ball from Paul Huntington, before cutting inside onto his left and firing a low shot goalwards, Al Habsi claiming at the second attempt.
Five minutes later and it took a brilliant block by Garath McCleary to deny Beckford from eight yards out after Johnson’s pull back following a brilliant move started by skipper Paul Gallagher, then Joe Garner onto DJ which had carved open the home side’s defence.
Just before the half hour mark Beckford went clean through on goal, capitalising on a mistake. He waited for the keeper to go down, but Al Habsi stuck up a huge hand to somehow prevent the No.10’s chip from opening the scoring, the first of a number of world class actions from the former Wigan man.
Moments later and North End were carving the home side open almost at will as Beckford, Johnson and then Woods combined with the latter cutting inside past three men and shooting left footed, but dragging his shot inches wife of the right hand upright.
Next up, a long ball from Kirkland was controlled by Beckford, who held it up and fed Garner, the No.14 rode his challenge, but couldn’t find the target from a tight angle.
Then seconds after Al Habsi celebrated his award again with an outstanding one-handed save down to his right, keeping out a low shot from Daniel Johnson who controlled turned and fired in one movement towards the bottom left hand corner of the goal at the opposite end to the vocal North End following who had made the 450-mile round trip.
Chris Kirkland was called into action five minutes after the break as Reading broke from a Jermaine Beckford chance and Daniss Rakels raced down the left and drove inside, firing low, but the experienced keeper saved well with his legs.
Finally 11 minutes into the second half the deadlock was broken. Joe Garner and Daniel Johnson combined before the latter put the ball into Jermaine Beckford who brilliantly eased the ball past Al Habsi and into the inside of the side-netting of the left side of the goal in front of the North End fans before standing statuesque, arms outstretched taking the acclaim of the near 800 travelling faithful.
Al Habsi was at it again on 71 minutes denying Paul Gallagher, who had danced through past two tackles from 35 yards out into the box; a strong hand low to his left denying the Preston captain, with Cooper hoofing the ball out for a corner before Beckford could pounce on the rebound.
Beckford was denied again by Al Habsi with a quarter of an hour left on the clock, his tow poke from 15 yards palmed out of the bottom left corner of the goal after North End’s front four pressed the home side’s defence backwards.
Despite all the pressure and the chances, completely against the run of play the home side equalised with just three minutes to go. Some slick passing in the build-up leading to Stephen Quinn firing hard and low into the bottom right hand corner from 20 yards out – not what the performance and application from North End deserved.
But in the first of three added minutes the Lilywhites got what they deserved. Some superb play, led by skipper Paul Gallagher, who cleverly fed Reach on the right, saw the on loan wing man burst into the box and pull the ball back to Daniel Johnson, who seemed to take an age to settle and pick his spot, firing hard and high into the top right hand corner across Al Habsi’s goal from 12 yards out, this came after Chris Kirkland at the other end had made a fine low save from Josh Barrett to keep the scores level!
The final whistle shortly after followed and it was no more than the yellows deserved on their final away game of the season, with one of their best performances.
Reading line-up: Al Habsi, Gunter, Evans (Barrett, 46), McShane (c), Norwood, Rakels, McCleary, Quinn, Williams, Kermorgant, Cooper. Subs not used: Bond, Taylor, Vydra, Ferdinand, Cox, Watson.
PNE line-up: Kirkland, Wright, Huntington, Cunningham (Vermijl, 66), Woods, Browne, Gallagher (c), Johnson, Reach, Beckford (Hugill, 85), Garner (Doyle, 84). Subs not used: Hudson, Pearson, Kilkenny, Robinson.
Attendance: 15,834 (778 away fans)
Referee: Mr D Deadman