Preston North End made it three wins in three with a 2-1 win over Reading on Friday night after a brace from Ched Evans.

After a very dull first half, Preston came to life in the second period only to be on the end of a soft penalty decision. However Evans popped up with his second of the night to give Preston fans the perfect start to the weekend.

Evans first goals for nearly a year

Not since the 27th November 2021 had Ched Evans scored a goal. That came at home to Fulham, and his goal drought along with Sean Maguire’s had become something of a joke among Preston fans. Even with Emil Riis and Troy Parrott it was felt we were short up front going into the start of the season. Parrott’s injury only exemplified that further, and Evans was only seen as a foil for Riis.

On Friday night Evans found his goal scoring touch. His first was a lovely flicked header from a Robbie Brady cross following a corner. He then beat Joe Lumley once more at the far post with an unexpected swerving shot after a breakaway from Ben Woodburn. A very well taken goal.

The unlikely match winner for Preston, but it is good to see someone else end up on the scoresheet. We need the goals to be shared around the team more, and we have become too reliant on Emil Riis. Luckily we have been clinical from set-pieces so far this season, but we need more from open play.

RONALDO, BALE AND 5 FAILED PREMIER LEAGUE HOMECOMINGS

It’s the first time for two years that Evans has scored a brace, and in one half he has equalled his goal tally from last season.

Reading v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

5th place in the league?!

I’m not quite sure how this has happened, but ahead of Saturday’s fixtures, Preston North End sit in 5th place in the Championship. We have played one or two games more than everyone in the league and if Norwich City, Watford or Swansea City win on Saturday then they will go ahead of us. However it has been far from an impressive season for The Lilywhites thus far.

Our defensive record has been superb of course. The seven clean sheets at the start of the season laid the foundations for that. But the football has been very tough to watch at times, Friday night’s first half a fine example of that. We lack creativity in the final third, and could definitely do with a few more additions. Also the Blackpool defeat will not be forgotten.

But overall the team have made themselves hard to beat, and even though the quality isn’t there you can’t knock their work rate. They put their bodies on the line, and run themselves into the ground. Every win this season, has come by a one goal margin. We have never played any team off the park. With those tight margins, you have to credit the game management that comes from the squad.

A soft penalty

Robbie Brady had played a great part in the first goal. He quickly got a Daniel Johnson pass out of his feet before whipping in a cross that Evans flicked home. However in the 70th minute he was adjudged to have brought down Andy Yiadom after the Reading defender played the ball through the Irishman’s legs. Brady was the wrong side of him, but there was limited contact before Yiadom went to ground.

The referee quickly awarded the penalty which Lucas Joao duly dispatched for what feels like his 100th goal against us, but it is actually only his fifth. It seemed harsh, but it didn’t matter in the end.

What could have been if we had a few more wins at the start of the season

The early games against Wigan Athletic, Hull City and Rotherham United were all there for the taking. We played well, but just missed our golden chances. If those 0-0’s were 1-0 wins for us we’d be in second place one point off the top of the table now.

Those were games where we actually created more chances than we are doing now. A lot of them fell to Troy Parrott who just didn’t seem to have the confidence at the time. We are fortunate the defence have been so solid. We have probably deserved all the wins we have managed this season, so it’s not as if we can say it balances out over the course of the season. The missed opportunities at the start are looking costly.

Reading v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Credit to Ryan Lowe and the squad for the response since Blackpool

The two Blackpool games are the results that matter over the course of the season. If we finish between 7th and 21st, the season is likely to be remember for what happens at Bloomfield Road and the return fixture at Deepdale. The defeat two weeks ago still hurts, yet the squad have responded superbly.

They ground out home wins against Middlesbrough and Swansea City before the win over Reading on Friday night. Three wins in the space of a week is impressive at any stage of the season. This has been a long slog with games crammed in ahead of the break for the World Cup.

Lowe has had to rotate the squad, with Ali McCann missing out on Reading, and even with Ben Whiteman out we managed a win. We don’t have much depth aside from the midfield which makes this run even more surprising.

It’s the first time since December 2020 that we have won three in a row in this league. That was behind closed doors under Alex Neil. At least fans have been able to enjoy this one in person.

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Josh McLoughlin
Josh McLoughlin

Combining my two passions of North End and writing. First game - 0-0 v Bristol Rovers 1996 Favourite player - Mark Rankine Favourite goal - Scott Laird v Manchester United

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