It was a game of firsts for the Lilywhites, as they put on another impressive home display to defeat Jaap Stam’s Reading 1-0 at Deepdale.
Jordan Hugill scored his first league goal of the season, after an impressive counter-attack, and with a flurry of chances, it could have been many more, but ultimately a young defence, including 18-year-old debutant Josh Earl, kept the door closed at the end, for back-to-back clean sheets in PR1.
Earl came into the side after the pre-match news that Greg Cunningham would be ruled out for an extended period, due to the injury he suffered at Derby on Tuesday night, and played alongside Ben Davies, who kept his place after making his first Championship start at Pride Park earlier in the week.
And it was the former Academy player that helped create the first chance, flicking on a corner from yet another full home debutant, Josh Harrop, the ball finding Davies in space at the back post, but his right-footed lofted effort was just over Vito Mannone’s bar from 12 yards out.
Ben Pearson, back in the side after his one match suspension, pulled the strings in the centre of midfield throughout and was close to the opener with a goal that would have been all his own making after 11 minutes.
He won the ball in his own half, robbing John Swift in the centre circle, before driving 50 yards into the Royals’ box and forcing a save from Mannone, who dropped low to his left to deny the PNE No.4, with visiting skipper Paul McShane collecting the loose ball and clearing.
But the opener came mid-way through the first half and it was superb play from Alex Neil’s men. On a counter-attack, Chris Maxwell went long for Tom Barkhuizen to chase down to the left hand corner flag, collecting the ball. The forward got back to the left hand sideline, before crossing deep for Sean Maguire – the final of four changes to the side from midweek – and the Irishman headed back across goal for Hugill to control on his chest before volleying into the top right hand corner of the goal from ten yards out.
It was almost two in the final of four added minutes in the first half, with another counter-attack. Once again Pearson won the ball on the edge of his own box from a Reading corner; he found Harrop, who released Daniel Johnson down the right hand side. The No.11 squared the ball for Maguire and he collected, firing left-footed towards the left hand corner of the goal, but former Arsenal and Sunderland man Mannone made a fine diving stop.
The second half began with the Lilywhites on the front foot once again and an Earl cross was only cleared as far as Barkhuizen, who lofted the ball over his own head and volleyed it towards the bottom left corner, only for Mannone to turn the effort behind for a corner.
The home side were slicing their opponents open with ease and ten minutes after the interval Davies played a ball up to Hugill, who in turn flicked it on for Maguire. The former Cork man threaded it in to the path of Barkhuizen, who tried to feed Hugill, but the frontman fired over from 15 yards out.
Counter attacks continued, with Stam’s side, expectedly, seeing a bit more of the ball in the final 20 minutes, but a great break by PNE, saw Maguire first, and then Hugill drive away, the ball drilled in by the No.25 from the right to the back post. Barkhuizen ran onto the ball at the back post, but fired wide from six yards out.
Stephy Mavididi was sent on for his league debut and his first experience of the Championship and it was almost a dream home debut in the second minute of stoppage time, when he raced through the middle onto Johnson’s through ball and bore down on the penalty area, but his curling right foot effort was pushed away by Mannone and it remained 1-0.
PNE line-up: Maxwell, Fisher, Earl, Pearson, Huntington (c), Davies, Barkhuizen (Robinson, 86), Johnson, Hugill, Harrop (Browne, 72), Maguire (Mavididi, 88). Subs not used: Hudson, Vermijl, Spurr, O’Connor.
Reading line-up: Mannone, Gunter, McShane (c), Moore, Swift (Evans, 25), Barrow, Bacuna, Clement (McCleary, 68), Blackett, Popa, Kelly (Mendes, 34). Subs not used: Jaakkola, Beerens, Ilori, Quinn.
Attendance: 11,174 (374 Reading fans)
Referee: Mr A Madley