READING FC clinched their first Championship home win on a Saturday for almost a year to boost their survival hopes.

Mo Barrow’s goal in the 12th minute was enough to earn Paul Clement a second victory and clean sheet in three matches since he replaced Jaap Stam.

Clement’s men were forced to defend for large periods against Alex Neil’s play-off chasing North End.

But they were well organised, aggressive and full of energy which proved just enough in the end.

Royals had a mere 40% possession during the game and just five shots to Preston’s 16.

Yet they somehow found a way to win, a trait that was sadly lacking towards the end of Stam’s reign.

The pressure on Reading had been cranked up after Barnsley defeated Sheffield United in the early kick off to leave them just two points above the drop zone.

But beating Preston restored the five-point gap and was another shot in the arm in their battle for survival.

Clement’s men can also bury the hoodoo of not having won a home league game on a Saturday since a 1-0 victory over Wigan on April 29, 2017.

Today’s win was a long time coming, but it could turn out to be a vital one in the context of a season of struggle.

Clement made four changes from the side that crashed 3-0 at Aston Villa on Tuesday night as Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, Omar Richards, Liam Kelly and John Swift came in for George Evans, Dave Edwards, Tyler Blackett and Sam Smith.

Blackett and Smith missed out altogether, while Edwards was suspended following his red card at Villa Park.

Preston took less than two minutes to test the hosts with the game’s first real chance.

A mistake by Richards allowed Billy Bodin to cut in from the right before unleashing a powerful drive which Vito Mannone beat away before Louis Moult put the rebound wide.

Royals, though, regrouped and took the lead 10 minutes later.

Bodvarsson showed great skill to turn Ben Davies before racing towards goal when he was hacked down from behind just outside the area.

Kelly swung the free-kick into the box, Bodvarsson flicked it on and Barrow was left unmarked to head home at the back post for a precious lead and is 10th goal of the campaign.

But they were nearly pegged pack barely a minute later when Richards conceded a free-kick 25 yards out and Moult smacked a shot against Mannone’s crossbar.

A lively start soon descended into a midfield battle where Reading appeared to have the edge over the visitors, without really troubling Declan Rudd in the Preston goal.

Clement’s men were compact and knocked the ball around well enough without managing to penetrate the last line of defence.

And when then they did break through their final ball was often lacking, something Chris Gunter, Sone Aluko and Bodvarsson were all guilty of.

Royals were also relieved to stay in front eight minutes before the break when Alan Browne was an inch away from connecting with Bodin’s cross before Mannone gratefully collected.

Then five minutes later Mannone did well to beat away Tom Barkhuizen’s powerful drive after a strong run from the Preston midfielder.

Yet Royals went close to snatching a second goal just before half-time.

Gunter was fouled near the corner flag and Aluko whipped a free-kick over to the back post where Liam Moore’s header was expertly saved by Rudd.

Both sides made changes for the second half with Pelle Clement replacing Richards meaning Gunter switched to left-back and Bacuna dropped into the right-back slot.

Neil, meanwhile, replaced Davies and Moult with Tom Clarke and Sean Maguire and reverted to a three-man defence.

It almost paid immediate dividends as the visitors threatened an equaliser straight after the restart.

Bodin blazed over at the back post from Greg Cunningham’s cross in the 47th minute when he should have hit the target.

Then three minutes later Maguire rattled the crossbar with a bullet header from eight yards out from Bodin’s teasing centre.

Royals rode out the storm and, though they remained under pressure, they defended resolutely before Bodin drilled a long-range free-kick into the stands midway though the second period.

Clement’s men replied when Aluko sent an acrobatic volley wide with 10 minutes to go.

But Bodin went close again in the 86th minute only to drag an effort wide of Mannone’s far post after some neat footwork.

They were nervy moments for the home faithful as a succession of crosses arrived in the Reading area during the closing stages.

But Mannone’s handling and positioning were superb as Royals held on for a victory that could go a long way to guaranteeing their Championship status next season.

They remain five points above the relegation zone, though Barnsley do have a game in hand.

And there could be more twists and turns ahead Royals head to promotion-chasing Fulham on Tuesday night (7.45pm ko).

Reading: Mannone, Gunter (c), Moore, Ilori, Richards (Clement 46), Bacuna, Swift, Kelly (Evans 84), Aluko, Barrow, Böðvarsson (Martin 71). Subs not used: Jaakkola, Van den Berg, Kermorgant, Holmes. Booked: Bacuna 17, Swift 60.

Preston: Rudd, Fisher, Huntington, Davies (Clarke 46), Cunningham, Pearson, Browne, Bodin, Robinson (Harrop 79), Barkhuizen, Moult (Maguire 46). Subs not used: Maxwell, Gallagher, Horgan, Earl. Booked: Davies 10, Fisher 26.

Referee: Andrew Madley.

Attendance: 15,501 (Preston 704).