PNE 3 Reading 0
The winter recruit showed skill, pace and goal-poaching attributes on an afternoon when the Lilywhites outplayed their Berkshire visitors.
His opener came just after the half hour mark with a stunning curling effort into the top right hand corner from the edge of the box, before running almost the full length of the pitch to set up Daryl Horgan for the second.
He added a third shortly after half-time, flicking home Andy Boyle’s header from Horgan’s central free kick to complete the scoring.
Boyle and Barkhuizen had both been given their first starts at Deepdale, retaining their places from the midweek draw at Derby and they looked at home amongst the Lilywhites with fine individual performances just two parts of an excellent team display.
At times Jaap Stam’s visitors had spells of possession, but were restricted to mainly shots from outside the penalty area as Simon Grayson’s men dominated the clear cut chances.
This began 16 minutes in when some great counter-attacking football from North End saw Ben Pearson, Daniel Johnson and Jordan Hugill all involved before Barkhuizen on his home debut bent a left footed effort just over the left hand corner of post and bar.
Chris Maxwell wasn’t just a spectator though and mid-way through the half was required to tip Garath McCleary’s left foot effort from 25 yards around the left hand post. From the resulting corner skippr Tom Clarke did brilliantly to block Yann Kermorgant’s volley from John Swift’s left-sided cross.
Just before the opening goal February player of the month Aiden McGeady put a Royals defender on his backside in the box and drilled a hard low shot that Ali Al-Habsi did well to get behind and push away.
But the opening came after 31 minutes as Barkhuizen made it three in three starts. It was a brilliant counter-attack from North End as Horgan got in behind Tyler Blackett, pulled the ball back to the striker, who bent the ball coming across him into the top left hand corner from the edge of the box – a superb finish.
And it was two five minutes before half-time. Daryl Horgan finished it at the second attempt, but again it was all about Tom Barkhuizen. He picked up the ball on the edge of his own box from a Reading corner and broke with electrifying pace right through the Reading defence, into the box before checking back and Horgan took the ball off his foot, hit the defender with a miss-hit shot, but then finished off at the second attempt.
On the stroke of the interval McCleary’s shot from 25 yards moved all over the place, but Maxwell did well to keep it out and Cunningham tidied up.
And after the break the home fans didn’t have to wait long for the third and Barkhuizen was at it again making it four goals in a week. This time a free kick from Horgan 35 yards out in a central position was clipped into the box, Boyle headed goalwards and Barkhuizen was in the right place in the six yard box and flicked the ball past Al-Habsi and into the back of the net.
And the former Morecambe man could have had his hat-trick before the hour mark as he hit the post going for his third of the game when he should perhaps have set up one of the three other men waiting in the box for the ball; having driven in from the left.
And the chances continued to flow. A brilliant free kick from North End by the left corner flag with 20 minutes left, McGeady into Johnson, laid it off for Cunningham who drilled a shot just wide of the right hand post – superb ingenious stuff that deserved a goal, but in the end the three was enough for another big win.
PNE line-up: Maxwell, Clarke (c), Cunningham, Pearson, Boyle, Huntington, Horgan (Browne, 62), Johnson, Barkhuizen (Robinson, 76), Hugill (Beckford, 88), McGeady. Subs not used: Lindegaard, Makienok, Spurr, May.
Reading line-up: Al-Habsi, Gunter, Van Den Berg, McShane (c) (Oxford, 72), Swift, Obita, McCleary, Kermorgant, Blackett, Grabban (Beerens, 77), Mutch (Williams, 33). Subs not used: Jaakola, Evans, Beerens, Meite, Popa.
Attendance: 10,787 (513 Reading fans)
Referee: Mr S Duncan