Tom Barkhuizen scores twice as Preston close in on play-off places
Tom Barkhuizen's double helped Preston secure a 3-0 win over Reading as their march towards the Sky Bet Championship play-offs continued.
The ex-Morecambe striker gave the Lilywhites the lead while Daryl Horgan doubled Preston's advantage before the break, and Barkhuizen added his second shortly after the restart.
Preston are now only six points off the top six and Barkhuizen has notched four goals in his last three appearances, while the Royals slipped to their third loss in five games.
Lewis Grabban tried his luck from 25 yards after five minutes with his dipping effort clipping the roof of Chris Maxwell's net.
The lively Garath McCleary twisted and turned on the edge of the box to unleash a fierce 22nd-minute effort which stung Maxwell's palms as Reading continued pressing.
The Royals broke forward and McCleary backheeled to John Swift who drove at the Preston rearguard and found Jordon Mutch who fired wide.
Championship Player of the Month Aiden McGeady turned in the box in the 28th minute and left Joey van den Berg in his wake to drill a low effort at Ali Al-Habsi.
And the Lilywhites took a 31st-minute lead when Horgan raced away from Tyler Blackett down the right and set up Barkhuizen who curled a sublime effort past Al-Habsi.
Barkhuizen helped Preston double their lead five minutes before the break after leading a counter-attack and teeing up Horgan whose first effort was blocked by Jordan Obita, but the Irishman tucked away the follow-up despite Al-Habsi's best efforts.
The rattled Royals nearly responded through McCleary who blasted a stoppage-time effort from 30 yards that was too hot for Maxwell to handle.
But Preston grabbed their third when Horgan's 49th-minute free-kick was headed across goal by Andy Boyle and Barkhuizen prodded home his second.
Grabban darted into the box and cut back for Yann Kermorgant but the striker was put off by Ben Pearson's challenge.
Barkhuizen raced away down the left just before the hour and tried to find Jordan Hugill but Al-Habsi denied the opportunity.
It was nearly four for Preston when McGeady's free-kick floated over the Reading wall but just wide, while the Everton loanee's cross moments later missed a diving Hugill by inches.
A clever free-kick routine saw McGeady pass to Daniel Johnson who found Greg Cunningham to drill off target with 20 minutes remaining as Preston ran out comfortable victors.