Preston’s Sky Bet Championship play-off hopes suffered a setback when they fell to a surprise 2-1 defeat at strugglers Reading.
The Royals’ leading marksman, Yakou Meite, stunned the visitors when guiding home the opening goal after 30 minutes, and six minutes later Preston were breached again when Mo Barrow took advantage of slack defending with a simple tap-in.
Although Preston dominated much of the second period, they found the net only once through Jayden Stockley’s late finish.
Preston had been unbeaten in 12 league matches, which included six away victories in a row, and had won their past three games to sit outside the play-off places only on goal difference.
They opened encouragingly, with midfielder Ben Pearson orchestrating many of their moves from his deep-lying position.
Chances were hard to come by but North End had a good opportunity after Callum Robinson had been fouled on the edge of the home area by Lewis Baker.
Captain Paul Gallagher struck the resultant free-kick but it cannoned into the defensive wall. Daniel Johnson then latched onto the rebound but his effort was also blocked.
After a sluggish start, Reading became more adventurous when going forward.
Meite tried an ambitious shot from 30 yards that flew well wide before Ovie Ejaria was crowded out by the Preston defence.
Andy Rinomhota blazed over and Meite did the same after another quick home break.
Reading were growing in confidence and struck twice in six minutes before the interval.
On the half-hour mark, John Swift released Barrow with a superb pass along the left flank. Barrow crossed low into the Preston box and Meite met the ball at the far post to tuck home his ninth goal of the season.
The Royals then increased their lead when Ben Davies’ poor backpass fell short of keeper Declan Rudd. Barrow nipped in to steal the ball before guiding it into the empty net.
Reading almost had a third soon after when Rudd tipped a goalbound Ejaria effort onto a post and away to safety.
Preston manager Alex Neil brought on substitutes Brandon Barker and Stockley at half-time but his new plans were soon disrupted when Barker had to go off injured and was replaced by Louis Moult.
Although Neil’s side improved in the second half, they were still struggling to create opportunities and they were left increasingly vulnerable at the back as they pushed forward.
Reading could have made it 3-0 just past the hour when Garath McCleary broke free down the right, but Ejaria completely missed his cross.
Preston rallied towards the end but Stockley’s late strike from close range deep into stoppage time proved too little too late.