Preston North End and Reading played out a goalless draw in an entertaining game at Deepdale in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
However, the visitors missed a penalty with their best chance of the game, Lucas João firing wide of the left-hand post after Joe Rafferty was adjudged to have brought down the Royals frontman.
Manager Alex Neil’s plans were thrown up in the air in the warm up, with Andrew Hughes having to pull out due to a shoulder injury suffered when he was thrown into the advertising hoardings late in the game at Birmingham a few days previously.
Hughes was replaced in the starting XI by Rafferty, with fellow left back Josh Earl also missing from the squad through injury.
Despite the late change in personnel the Lilywhites started extremely brightly and could have been ahead in the first 40 seconds, Emil Riis laying the ball off for Scott Sinclair and Rafael in the visitors goal turning the PNE top scorer’s effort around the post for an early corner.
There were three home debutants in the PNE ranks and one of those, Daniel Iversen, was called on in the 19th minute to make a good save from one of a number of John Swift free kicks. This effort was the furthest out – over 30 yards – with the keeper diving low to his right to get two strong hands to the shot.
Shortly after, the Lilywhites again went close, Jayson Molumby – another of those getting their first home starts – showing good skill to get to the byline before pulling the ball back to Brad Potts, who spun and shot just over the corner of the post and bar from ten yards out.
Just before half-time another opportunity came, with Rafael making an excellent save to stop North End from going into the break ahead. Good play from Ryan Ledson on the left saw the ball delivered into the penalty area. Alan Browne put pressure on and the ball fell to Riis, who twisted and turned to create himself a bit of space before getting a right toe to the ball to divert goalwards, the Royals keeper getting down low to his left to get a hand and diver the ball away, the Reading defence clearing again at the feet of Browne looking to follow up.
Iversen was the busier keeper at the start of the season half, making two saves from Sone Aluko and Ovie Ejaria, in a good spell for the Royals, but when their penalty came it was after the hosts seemed to weathered their good start to the second period.
Swift was the man who again delivered into the box and João and Rafferty seemed to have hold of one another at the back post, after the cross from the left, but along time after the ball was cleared from the area referee Geoff Eltringham eventually pointed to the spot, the assistant on the dug out side involved in the decision.
After a long delay the former Sheffield Wednesday man stepped up to face Iversen and although the keeper went to his right and the striker to his left, it was dragged wide of the post and out for a goalkick with seven minutes left.
Tom Barkhuizen, Daniel Johnson and Ched Evans had all been added to the attacking options for the Lilywhites at stages in the final 20 minutes and the former of those three almost combined with Potts in the three minutes of injury time to carve open one last chance, but the final whistle came on the first scoreless game at Deepdale since February 2019, giving PNE five clean sheets from their last seven league games.
PNE line-up: Iversen, Browne (c), Rafferty, Whiteman, Huntington, Davies, Potts, Ledson, Riis (Barkhuizen, 70), Molumby (Johnson, 80), Sinclair (Evans, 86). Subs not used: Ripley, Fisher, Bayliss, Gallagher, Evans, Baxter, O’Reilly.
Reading line-up: Rafael, Richards, Morrison (c), McIntyre, Rinomhota, Swift, Ejaria, Joao, Aluko (Semedo, 77), Laurent, Holmes. Subs not used: Southwood, Esteves, Olise, Baldock, Gibson, Tetek, Onen, Camara.
Referee: Mr G Eltringham