North End were on the wrong side of a five-goal thriller at Deepdale, despite goals from Daniel Johnson and Callum Robinson.
The opening effort came completely against the run of play as Sam Baldock fired home from John Swift’s lofted through ball, however, the Lilywhites were soon level, Johnson’s 22-yard effort deflecting off Leandro Bacuna past Sam Walker in the Royals goal.
But it was the visitors who again scored against the run of play at the start of the second half, Swift firing home from close range from Sone Aluko’s driven cross from the left.
North End drew level for a second time when Robinson got a touch on Josh Earl’s driven effort from the left, but Bacuna got on the end of substitute Jon Dadi Bodvarsson’s cross from the right with what proved to be the winner.
Manager Alex Neil had made five changes to his starting XI, opting to play a 3-4-3 formation, with Alan Browne not making it after picking up a calf injury on international duty, but Lukas Nmecha returned to take a place on the substitutes bench.
After a slow opening ten minutes, the home side burst to life and had chances to be two or three ahead before the opener.
On 11 minutes Robinson had a shot from 25 yards that was turned away by Walker – in for the injured Vito Mannone - but Louis Moult collected the follow up and drilled the ball back across goal, but it couldn’t be forced home.
Moments later some good build up play saw Paul Gallagher switch to Dranell Fisher on the right, he put over a driven cross and Tom Barkhuizen got on the end of it with a vicious volley that flew past Walker, but just over the bar from 15 yards out.
It continued to be brilliant from PNE. On 18 minutes Robinson collected the ball on the left and crossed finding a superb header from Barkhuizen, that beat Walker, but it came back out off the inside of the left-hand post.
So on 23 minutes, when Reading scored, it was completely against the run of play. There looked a clear foul on Gallagher in the build-up by Swift, not given by referee Darren Bond, but the visiting No.10 came out with the ball and lifted it into Baldock, who fired in on the half volley into the bottom left hand corner.
The visitors then had their best spell of the game and Declan Rudd made a fine save from a Yakou Meite shot, after a run down the left and a fired in shot from ten yards out by the Reading winger.
But just after the half hour mark the sides were level. Robinson played a pass out to Josh Earl, who drove down the left of the box, drilled the ball across, Moult laid it off for Robinson on the penalty spot, he hit Moult with his shot, but it came out to Johnson on edge of ‘D’, who hit a shot that deflected off Bacuna and into the bottom right hand corner, flat-footing Walker.
The pressure from PNE continued after they were on parity and a superb break saw Robinson move forward and play the ball onto Moult, it came back into Robinson who beat Walker, but was inches wide of the right-hand post.
Ten minutes before the interval, Barkhuizen broke with pace down the left, moved in towards the left corner of penalty area, beat Tiago Ilori, but his shot came off Liam Moore with Robinson and Moult waiting for a kind rebound that didn’t come.
There was a blistering start to the second half as Gallagher was denied by Walker after Barkhuizen had a shot blocked with a huge shot for penalty for handball by Liam Moore.
But Paul Clement’s side were back in front on 52 minutes. A cleverly worked corner saw a backheel free up Aluko with some space on the left byline and he flashed the ball into the six-yard box where Swift was on hand to fire home from past Rudd close range.
A double-change before the hour mark saw Josh Harrop and Lukas Nmecha brought on; Fisher and Gallagher the men to give way, with Barkhuizen going to right wing back and a three-pronged attack.
Nmecha’s pace and trickery was on show mid-way through the half as he burst to the edge of the ‘D’ only to be upended as he was about to enter the box. It was 19 yards out and Harrop had the shot that flicked off the wall and behind for a corner.
Into the final 20 minutes and a long throw from Barkhuizen almost brought the equaliser as Paul Huntington flicked it on to Nmecha and then it fell to Earl, whose shot was superbly saved by Walker. From the second of two corners to result from the attack Clarke got onto Harrop’s cross, but it hit Nmecha and bounced clear.
But the Lilywhites were level with 14 minutes to go. The goal came through work from Earl. The ball was worked out to the young left back, who found space outside the corner of the box to drill a shot into a crowd of players and Robinson, North End’s No.7, poked out a toe to divert the effort into the bottom right hand corner.
However, for the third time in the game the Royals moved ahead. Nine minutes were left on the clock and they broke with numbers. Liam Kelly fed substitute Bodvarsson down the right and his right-wing cross was put home from close range by Bacuna.
Four minutes were added at the end, with the additional time starting with Barkhuizen stinging the gloves of Walker. A good move followed as Earl glanced a header from Barkhuizen's cross narrowly wide, but the home side were unable to get a third equaliser of the game.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Clarke (c), Huntington, Davies, Fisher (Harrop, 56), Gallagher (Nmecha, 57), Johnson, Earl, Barkhuizen, Moult (Burke, 80), Robinsons. Subs not used: Maxwell, Storey, Hughes, Barker.
Reading line-up: Walker, Gunter, Yiadom, Moore (c), Bacuna, Baldock, Swift, Aluko (Sims, 79), Ilori, Meite (Bodvarsson, 75), Kelly. Subs not used: Jaakkola, O’Shea, McShane, McNulty, Rinomhota.
Attendance: 10,849 (288 Reading fans)
Referee: Mr D Bond