Reading were left disappointed on Saturday afternoon following a narrow 1-0 defeat against Preston North End at Deepdale.
- Bacuna makes Royals debut
- Royals lose Kelly and Swift in the first half through injury
- Jordan Hugill nets midway through the first half for the hosts to secure all three points
Reading handed a debut to Leandro Bacuna, the only change to the starting XI which beat Aston Villa, with Joey van den Berg being ruled out through injury. But two of the creative forces in midfield had to be withdrawn before the break as John Swift and Liam Kelly suffered injuries in turn.
And Jordan Hugill's goal, which came at the midpoint of the first period, proved to be decisive as Reading couldn't find a way past Chris Maxwell in the North End net.
The hosts forged the first effort in the opening exchanges, a corner looping to the far post for Ben Davies to volley across goal, narrowly going high of the upright.
Royals found themselves struggling to gain a foothold on proceedings early on, Ben Pearson ploughing through the midfield on a 40-yard run to the box, only for Vito Mannone to get down well and save to his left in what should have been the game's first goal.
Despite the Royals playing with more possession, it was the hosts who looked the more threatening going forward in the first period.
The deadlock was eventually broken midway through the first half. Following an Adrian Popa run into the area, the ball was poked behind but a goal kick was awarded - much to the amazement of the Romanian, who had expected a corner as a minumum from the lunging challenge.
And the resulting long ball from goalkeeper Chris Maxwell found Tom Barkhuizen on the left hand side... he shimmied into space, crossed to the far post, with the ball nodded across by Sean Maguire for Hugill to take a touch and fire in to give the hosts the lead.
The Royals' luck did not improve as central midfielders John Swift and Liam Kelly were both withdrawn through injury in the space of 10 first half minutes following the goal.
The introduction of Joseph Mendes did provide a further attacking outlet, though, with the striker involved immediately after coming on.
Pelle Clement whipped a free-kick towards the near post, with Mendes glancing a cross-goal header towards the bottom corner but denied by a smart diving save from Maxwell.
There were several feisty challenges going in between the teams as both sides battled for supremacy in the middle of the park.
North End could have doubled their lead in first half stoppage time with Daniel Johnson breaking quickly from a Royals corner, squaring for Maguire who shot first time. Mannone was equal to the effort, with Barkhuizen's rebound clearing the crossbar.
The hosts started the second half with the best of the attacking opportunities once more, Barkhuizen finding space 20 yards out and curling an effort on target, but Mannone dived well to his left to save.
Despite increased Reading pressure early in the second half, North End broke with Maguire threading through and getting behind the Royals' defence, Barkhuizen squandering his chance and spooning high and wide.
Mo Barrow was persistently hassling the Preston defence to try and create chances to add to his first Royals goal in the week, showing fleet-footedness to beat his markers but agonisingly unable to get clear space to shoot on several occasions.
Liam Moore also pitched in with two last-ditch blocks in quick succession from Hugill and Johnson's shots, to keep the deficit at just the one goal.
Garath McCleary drove on in the Preston half but was brought down on the edge of the area, Popa taking the free-kick but it was deflected away for a corner by the wall.
It appeared that it wasn't meant to be for the Royals in front of goal on Saturday afternoon, despite their efforts.
Reading: Mannone, Gunter, McShane (c), Moore, Blackett, Bacuna, Kelly (Mendes 34), Swift (Evans 25), Barrow, Popa, Clement (McCleary 68).
Unused subs: Jaakkola, Beerens, Ilori, Quinn.
Yellow: Moore, Evans, Gunter.
Preston North End: Maxwell, Pearson, Hugill, Harrop (Browne 72), Johnson, Fisher, Davies, Huntington (c), Maguire (Mavididi 88), Barkhuizen (Robinson 85), Earl.
Unused subs: Rudd, Vermijl, Spurr, O'Connor.
Goals: Hugill (22).
Yellow: Pearson, Fisher.
Attendance: 11,174 (374 away).