Swift strike seals winning start for StamThe Royals won their opening day fixture with a 1-0 scoreline against Preston North End...on an emotionally-charged day dedicated to Eamonn Dolan.
Debutant John Swift broke the deadlock after 35 minutes, peeling away from his marker to connect with a low Garath McCleary corner and firing high into the top right corner past a helpless Anders Lindegaard.
Ali Al Habsi had to save well in a one-on-one situation with Daniel Johnson, while at the other end Anders Lindegaard did well to save from Rakels' sidefooted second half effort, but the Royals held firm under pressure near the end of the game to deservedly take all three points.
Manager Jaap Stam named his first competitive eleven and started with three debutants. Joey van den Berg began in defence, while winger Roy Beerens started on the left wing - and John Swift made up a three man midfield. On the bench were two new names too, Yakou Meite and Callum Harriott, alongside Academy youngsters Tennai Watson and Liam Kelly.
After an emotional and heartfelt tribute to Eamonn Dolan before kick-off, the game and the new season began in glorious sunshine at Madejski Stadium.
Only five minutes had passed before the Royals worked their first opening of the season. McCleary burst down the left and fizzed a low cross into the middle. It flashed through the North End area and fell for Obita, but his scuffed effort was half blocked and dribbled wide.
The visitors had the ball in the back of the net soon after, but Jermaine Beckford's close range finish counted for nothing after the whistle had gone for a handball by Joe Garner in the build-up.
And at the other end, the Royals were looking dangerous. Chris Gunter got forward and crossed into the middle, Rakels missed his kick and it was just too far behind Swift, who wrapped his right boot around it but could only drag it wide of the right post.
Roy Beerens was looking a real threat and he got in behind the back line down the left, dinked a cross into the middle where Rakels rose but nodded wide. Then Beerens found himself in a shooting position, but his sidefooted effort was charged down by what looked like a Preston arm. Appeals fell on deaf ears.
Beerens and Rakels almost combined on the half hour mark when a chipped cross fell to the frontman, who wasn't expecting it to drop to him and instinctively aimed an effort at goal, but harmlessly wide.
However, the Royals deservedly took the lead with ten minutes of the first half remaining. Garath McCleary fiized a low corner into the box from the right and, in a move that looked to have been practiced on the training ground, John Swift peeled off and free of his marker arrowed powerfully into the top right corner for 1-0.
Last year's Player of the Season, Ali Al Habsi had to be alert to pluck the ball from the air ahead of Jermaine Beckford after a free kick from the left had been nodded back into a dangerous area.
Brilliant feet from McCleary almost set up another chance. The winger skipped past two or three and laid the ball back to Beerens but before his fellow winger who lash a right leg at it, the Prerston skipper slid in to clear the ball at the last second.
Some lovely football opened up the visitors once more on the stroke of half-time. Beerens and Swift played a key role in the build-up before a Rakels dummy rolled into the path of McCleary whose shot was blocked, and Evans' follow-up was easily gathered in by Anders Lindegaard.
Half-time: Reading 1-0 Preston North End
The Lilywhites came out fired up for the second half and Beckford found some space down the left, getting to the byline and cutting the ball back only for Van den Berg to slide in at the perfect moment and intercept.
Soon after, Preston spurned a good opportunity to equalise. Van den Berg tried to find Evans but Daniel Johnson stole possession and bore down on goal. Al Habsi made himself big and saved well with his body to Johnson's dismay.
Garner got his head on the end of a direct ball forward into the Royals box but could only flick it well over the crossbar.
But it was the home side who nearly got a second. McCleary played the ball into the path of Swift down the right and he passed the ball into the middle where an onside Rakels met it with a sidefoot. But Lindegaard's sprawling body was enough to block the Latvian striker's effort.
Jordan Obita had to withdraw with an injury just after the hour, handing a debut to Academy product Tennai Watson - on a day when the Academy rightly took centre stage. And Swift smashed an effort high and wide moments later as the Royals looked to make their dominance count.
Callum Harriott came off the bench to make his bow only a day after completing his move to the Madejski, and his first involvement was to burst down the right and cross low into the area where a Preston defender almost turned the ball past his own keeper at the near post.
North End almost stole an equaliser as time began to tick away, but thankfully Cunningham couldn't get a decisive touch on Huntington's flick from a late free kick. And then Tennai Watson did well to charge down another late North End effort and win a free kick inside his own area at the same time.
Simon Grayson's men threw the kitchen sink at the Royals in six minutes of injury time, but to no avail - Reading stood strong and earned three points on the opening day.
Full-time: Reading 1-0 Preston North End
Reading: Al-Habsi, Gunter, Obita (Watson 66), McShane (c), Van den Berg, Evans, Williams, Swift, McCleary (Harriott 72), Beerens, Rakels (Kermorgant 81).
Unused subs: Jaakkola, Cooper, Kelly, Meite.
Yellow: McShane, Evans.
Goals: Swift (35)
Preston North End: Lindegaard, Cunningham, Clarke (c) (Humphries 72), Wright, Grimshaw (Browne HT), Huntington, Pringle, Johnson, Gallagher, Garner (Hugill 78) Beckford.
Unused sub: Doyle, Spurr, Robinson, Maxwell.
Yellow: Gallagher, Browne.
Referee: Mr A Davies
Att: 15,764 (1,000 away)