The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By John McDougall

SIMON Grayson in­sists his side have had a great sea­son re­gard­less of whether they fin­ish in the play­offs or not, de­spite beat­ing fel­low pro­mo­tion hope­fuls Read­ing.

Tom Barkhuizen’s dou­ble at Deep­dale ei­ther side of half-time sand­wiched Daryl Hor­gan’s strike as the Li­ly­whites closed the gap to just six points on Sh­effield Wed­nes­day in sixth.

And Grayson be­lieves the win over the Roy­als has en­hanced their chances of try­ing to catch the teams ahead of them.

“Wher­ever we fin­ish, we’ll have had a great sea­son be­cause they’re an hon­est bunch of play­ers and we’ll keep fight­ing till the end and see where it takes us,” he said.

“I’m ob­vi­ously de­lighted when you beat some­body who are in the play-off po­si­tions 3-0, keep a clean sheet, with very good in­di­vid­ual per­for­mances and could have had a lot more goals if we’d taken our chances.

“You can’t com­plain beat­ing a team that have been in the play­offs for a long spell, who are cer­tainly still go­ing to be up there come the end of the sea­son.”

Lewis Grab­ban’s dip­ping ef­fort after five min­utes clipped the roof of Chris Maxwell’s net and the lively Garath McCleary twisted and turned on the edge of the box to un­leash a fierce 22nd-minute ef­fort which stung the stop­per’s palms as Read­ing started brightly.

The Roy­als broke for­ward and McCleary back­heeled to John Swift who drove at the Pre­ston rear­guard and found Jor­dan Mutch, who could only fire wide.

Championship Player of the Month Ai­den McGeady turned in the box on 28 min­utes and left Joey van den Berg in his wake to drill a low ef­fort at Ali Al-Habsi.

And the Li­ly­whites took a 31stminute lead when Hor­gan raced away from Tyler Black­ett down the right and set up Barkhuizen who curled a sub­lime ef­fort past Al-Habsi.

Barkhuizen helped Pre­ston dou­ble their lead five min­utes be­fore the break after lead­ing a counter-at­tack and tee­ing up Hor­gan whose first ef­fort was blocked by Jor­dan Obita, but the Ir­ish­man tucked away the re­bound de­spite Al-Habsi’s best ef­forts.

The rat­tled Roy­als nearly re­sponded through McCleary whose blasted stop­page-time ef­fort from 30 yards was too hot for Maxwell to han­dle.

But Pre­ston grabbed their third when Hor­gan’s 49thminute free-kick was headed across goal by Andy Boyle and Barkhuizen prod­ded home his sec­ond and fourth in three games.

It was nearly four for Pre­ston when McGeady’s 66th-minute free-kick floated over the Read­ing wall but just wide, while the Ever­ton loa­nee’s cross mo­ments later missed a div­ing Jor­dan Hugill by inches as Pre­ston ran out com­fort­able win­ners.

Roy­als boss Jaap Stam – whose side have lost three of their last five games – said: “Ev­ery­body knows where we are, if you want to stay there, you need to de­fend and play in a cer­tain way with a cer­tain ag­gres­sion.

“It’s not only now to­wards the end of the sea­son, it’s the whole sea­son be­cause this is a tough league.

“It’s very dif­fi­cult to stay in the top six. All the teams, they want to stay up there, they want to do well. But we need to know how you need to play and what’s nec­es­sary at the time to do well or not give any­thing away.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

WELL DONE: Tom Barkhuizen is con­grat­u­lated on scor­ing Pre­ston’s opener and, in­set, Daryl Hor­gan nets the sec­ond

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