Modou Barrow’s 10th goal of the season helped earn Reading a much-needed victory over play-off hopefuls Preston that eases relegation fears.
The Gambian winger nodded home from close range on twelve minutes, after Jon Dadi Bodvarsson had flicked on Liam Kelly’s free-kick. Preston then dominated the game and came close, twice hitting the woodwork but Reading held out for the three points.
The win is particularly significant after third-from-bottom Barnsley scored a late winner in the early kick off, thus closing the gap to two points pre-match. The win now leaves Reading five points clear of relegation, ahead of Tuesday’s trip to high-flying Fulham.
An errant pass from Omar Richards almost led to a Preston goal inside three minutes. Billy Boden cut in from the right and fired a shot at Mannone, who carried the ball into the path of Alan Brownie, but he couldn’t react fast enough to direct the rebound on target.
It was Reading who took the early lead however, with Barrow heading in from close range after Bodvarsson had flicked on Kelly’s free kick towards the former Swansea winger.
Preston forward Louis Moult nearly equalised immediately for the Lillywhites, rattling a free-kick against the crossbar from the edge of the box.
Kelly then saw a penalty claim waved away by referee Andrew Madley, after he went to ground under a challenge from Darnell Fisher, before Liam Moore threw himself into an important block at the other end, after Leandro Bacuna had lost the ball in midfield.
Boden caused more problems for Reading down the wing, whipping in a dangerous cross from the right, but Mannone raced out to collect the ball before Browne could turn the ball in at full stretch.
Royals came close to doubling their lead in first half stoppage time, with Moore rising well to meet Aluko’s free kick, and head goalwards, but Declan Rudd produced a fantastic reflex save to claw the ball out for a corner and ensure it remained 1-0 to the home side at the break.
The Lillywhites were fast out of the traps in the second half, with Bodin driving an effort over the bar from a Greg Cunningham cross before Bodin crossed into the recently introduced Sean Maguire, who thundered a header against the bar.
Kelly and Bodvarsson linked up well, with Kelly receiving the ball after a one-two to race through on goal, but the Irishman was judged to have controlled the ball with his arm and was duly flagged up for a foul.
Preston continued to enjoy the lion’s share of possession, sending countless deliveries into the Reading box without really threatening Mannone’s goal. Bodin also fired a dipping free-kick over from 25 yards for the visitors as Reading worked hard to protect their slender lead.
Reading pressed for a second to ease the nerves of the Royals faithful, with Barrow bursting through and squaring the ball for Pelle Clement, but the substitute was beaten to the ball by a sea of yellow shirts who cleared it away to safety.
Clement was involved again moments later, finding space on the left, before cutting in and crossing towards Aluko who could only slice his volley wide of the Preston post.
Preston continued to throw players forward in search of a late equaliser, with Bodin again shooting off target, but the Lillywhites struggled to produce any real quality as Royals on to notch their first Saturday home win this season.
Reading: Mannone, Gunter (c), Ilori, Moore, Richards (Clement 45), Bacuna, Kelly (Evans 85), Swift, Aluko, Barrow, Bodvarsson (Martin 72).
Subs not used: Van den Berg, Kermorgant, Jaakkola, Holmes.
Yellow cards: Bacuna (17), Swift (60)
Preston: Rudd, Fisher, Huntington, Davies (Clarke 45) , Cunnigham (c), Pearson, Brownie, Robinson (Harrop 79), Barkhuizen, Bodin, Moult (Maguire 45).
Subs not used: Maxwell, Gallagher, Horgan, Earl
Yellow cards: Davies (10), Fisher (27)
Referee: Andrew Madley
Attendance: 15,501 (inc. 704 away)