ROYALS LEFT FLUSHED BY TERRIFIC TOM
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.”
WELL DONE: Tom Barkhuizen is congratulated on scoring Preston’s opener and, inset, Daryl Horgan nets the second