Reading moved four points clear of the Championship relegation zone with an impressive win over in-form Preston at Madejski Stadium.
Two goals in six first half minutes were enough for the Royals with Yakou Meite and Mo Barrow on target as Jose Gomes’ men eased to a 2-0 lead against their play-off chasing opponents.
Preston reduced the arrears deep into second half stoppage time through substitute Jayden Stockley, but Reading had done enough.
The win, coupled with results elsewhere including a heavy 6-1 defeat for relegation rivals Rotherham at Derby, means Reading are now up to 19th in the table with seven games to play.
Jose Gomes made three changes from the goalless draw at Stoke City before the international break with Andy Rinomhota returning from injury while Ovie Ejaria and Barrow were also recalled with Garath McCleary, Michael Olise and Callum Harriott all dropping to the bench. There was also a welcome return among the substitutes for Nelson Oliveira, who was feared to be ruled out for the remainder of the season with a hamstring problem.
Preston arrived just outside the play-off positions and on a 12-match unbeaten run, including six away wins on the spin, but they could not test Emi Martinez early on with blocked shots from Paul Gallagher and Daniel Johnson the closest they came.
Reading were struggling create many chances either although they did have a penalty shout waved away when Andy Yiadom went down under Lucas Nmecha’s challenge in the box.
Meite, Andy Rinomhota and Ejaria all tried their luck before the deadlock was broken on the half hour mark. John Swift released Barrow down the left, whose perfectly weighted ball found Meite charging in at the back post to slam home on his 50th appearance for the club.
And that lead was quickly doubled. Barrow’s pace was again giving the Preston defence nightmares, leading to Ben Davies under-hitting a pass back towards his own goalkeeper Declan Rudd. Barrow nipped in, skipped around the keeper and tapped into the empty net.
Royals were in a purple patch and they came inches away from making it 3-0 just before half-time. Ejaria collected the ball 20 yards from goal and curled right-footed towards the far corner, but Rudd made a brilliant flying save to tip onto the post.
Preston made a double switch at the break, introducing Brandon Barker and Jayden Stockley, and the changes almost had the desired effect. Barker quickly broke down the left and delivered low for Sean Maguire in the centre, but the forward missed his kick.
The visitors were making the stronger start to the half but twice found an impressive Matt Miazga in their way.
At the other end McCleary, who had just replaced scorer Barrow, got in down the right and fired in towards Ejaria, but he could not turn goalwards.
Gomes turned to his bench again soon after, introducing club captain Paul McShane for his first appearance since August in place of Swift and altered the formation to a back five.
Preston were struggling to create any chances to try and create a nervy finish but did find the net with seconds to play when Maguire’s shot against the post was turned in on the rebound by Stockley.
The visitors had one last effort to try and nick an unlikely point when Josh Earl headed just wide, but it was too little, too late.
READING: Martinez; Yiadom, Miazga, Moore (c), Blackett; Baker; Meite, Rinomhota, Swift (McShane 65), Ejaria (Harriott 89); Barrow (McCleary 58).
Subs not used: Walker, Gunter, Olise, Oliveira.
Goals: Meite (30), Barrow (36)
PRESTON: Rudd; Fisher, Storey, Davies, Earl; Pearson; Gallagher (c), Johnson, Nmecha (Stockley 45); Maguire, Robinson (Barker 45 (Moult 58)).
Subs not used: Crowe, Rafferty, Huntington, Ledson.
Goal: Stockley (90+3)
Yellow cards: Fisher (72)
Referee: Tony Harrington
Attendance: 16,771 (inc. 1,782 away)