Preston North End 0-2 Reading: 3 Talking Points

The decade sizzled out with a damp squib of a game, as Preston North End faltered under the floodlights.

Preston have now lost their last five games against Reading – a miserable record that stretches back to August 2017.

Here are 3 talking points:

Lack of firepower.

Irishman Seani Maguire made his 22nd start of the season, leading the line this time as the lone striker.

Alex Neil deployed the 25-year-old as the no. 9 to give Preston mobility and also to freshen things up after a packed festive slate of fixtures.

But the decision to field Maguire at the top looked misguided. The nimble attacker struggled to impose himself on the game and registered a meager one shot on target.

Maguire has spent much of this season on the wing, with limited success, and as the striker against Reading he lost 10 out of 11 duels – the most in the match.

Stockley should have been introduced to the field of play sooner, but Alex Neil dithered with his changes and allowed the game to wane.

PNE have now scored just one goal in three games, with a lack of firepower a predicament that Alex Neil must address in January.

Preston sit 23rd in the Championship for big chances created and 20th for big chances missed.

If the Lilywhites are to make the play-offs, they need to solve their problem of profligacy and learn to take their chances.

Against Reading, PNE registered an xG of 1.45, despite taking a total of 21 shots. The Royals, from an xG of 1.42, scored twice, showing a real clinical edge.

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Scapegoat Potts.

Frustrations boiled over on the hour mark, as the substitution of Brad Potts coincided with a chorus of ironic cheers.

In times of dismay, fans naturally seek out a scapegoat.

At the start of the season it was Declan Rudd, now, at the midway point, it’s Brad Potts.

Potts has made just eight starts this campaign and is clearly battling with his own self-confidence.

Against Leeds, Potts was lauded for his incessant running and tough tackling. The powerful runner was instrumental in Preston’s tactical masterclass.

But just three days later and the former Barnsley favourite is being booed off against Reading.

Football is a game of opinions and everyone is entitled to their own, but the Brad Potts of last season didn’t become a bad player overnight.

Fans have been blown around by populist sentiment when it comes to Potts and while it is perfectly acceptable to criticize his performances of late, it is wrong for him to be needlessly maligned.

A sense of measured understanding is needed with Potts. Acknowledging that, yes, he’s not on a good run of form, but he showed enough last season to prove that he is a capable Championship midfielder.

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Cumbersome Clarke.

Clarke is great at playing to his strengths, but he also plays with inherent deficits.

When called upon, Clarke has performed pretty well.

Against Leeds, Clarke won the most tackles in the match (5) and put in a warrior-like performance.

But when Darnell Fisher is available, Clarke should not start at right back.

The 32-year-old, who has only recently returned from a lengthy injury, is limited when going forward and lacks confidence in attack.

This is understandable, which is why I am hesitant to lay a heap of blame at Clarke’s feet. After all, it was the manager’s decision to play him over Fisher.

On too many occasions against Reading, Clarke’s final ball failed to beat the first man, but he also struggled defensively.

Reading boast a bright attacking trio that enjoy ghosting in-field and playing between the lines.

For Reading’s first goal, Clarke was by no means directly at fault, but his cumbersome defending left a lot to be desired.

Similarly for the Royals’ second goal, Clarke was caught out in a central position, when Reading defender Tyler Blackett ghosted beyond him. Blackett scythed PNE’s defence open with a precision pass, which Lucas Joao expertly put home.

Tom Clarke endured a day of unrest on Sunday, but Alex Neil should take a portion of blame for playing an ageing combatant against a quick and skillful winger.