READING FC’s fight for survival took a positive twist as they beat high-flying Preston North End 2-1 at Madejski Stadium.

The visitors had won their last six away matches on the spin but goals from Yakou Meite and Modou Barrow ensured a crucial three points as Royals climbed to 19th in the Championship table.

Preston did attempt to stage a late comeback and managed to grab a last-minute consolation goal through Louis Moult.

But Royals held on to make it three home wins out of four, kick-starting a crucial relegation run-in on a positive note.

Jose Gomes made three changes to his side as Ovie Ejaria, Andy Rinomhota and Barrow all started ahead of Garath McCleary, Callum Harriott and teenager Michael Olise.

But in a dramatic twist, the most surprising selection came on the bench as Nelson Oliveira was named among the substitutes despite fears he could have been out for the season with a significant hamstring injury sustained against Ipswich Town.

The Norwich City loanee – who Royals boss Gomes confirmed Reading can sign on a permanent deal in the summer – had been working with ‘miracle doctor’ Eduardo Santos recently and was deemed fit enough to return to action.

Ivorian forward Meite, who made his international debut in the week, struck fear into the opposition early on as he skipped his way beyond two defenders before giving away a needless foul after four minutes.

Uncharacteristically though, Royals did not see much of the ball in the opening 10 minutes of the match as the visitors dominated the majority of the possession.

But Royals looked threatening on the counter attack as Gambian forward Barrow’s eyes lit up as Ejaria sent him racing through on goal after 11 minutes. The visitors reacted quickly however and forced the pacey front-man out wide.

Andy Yiadom has a claim for a penalty after 18 minutes when he tried to dance his way between two players inside the box. He was crowded out by Josh Earl and Ben Davies but referee Tony Harrington insisted no foul was committed.

Moments later, Meite seized on a loose ball and pulled the trigger from 30 yards – ignoring options around him – but dragged his shot wide of Declan Rudd’s goal.

Reading’s momentum began to show as Ejaria and Rinomhota both had strikes at goal in quick succession but the latter cleared the crossbar by some distance.

Liverpool-loanee Ejaria was in the thick of the action again on 28 minutes as he danced his way into the box before a rebounded strike fell kindly for Meite – who fired over.

But the former PSG man’s hard work paid off seconds later as he finally broke the deadlock for Gomes’ side.

John Swift split the defence into pieces with a delightful through ball, sending Barrow racing down the left wing.

Barrow looked up before fizzing a cross into the box towards an unmarked Meite who had a gaping goal to fire in to.

And Barrow quickly transformed from provider to finisher just minutes later as he seized on a dreadfully under-hit Davies back-pass before skipping beyond the helpless Rudd and doubling Reading’s lead.

Royals could have added a third on the stroke of half-time as Ejaria cut onto his favoured right foot before hitting a curled effort from 20 yards. Rudd was alert this time however and did well to palm the strike away from danger.

An incensed Neil made two changes at the break as Lucas Nmecha and Callum Robinson were replaced by Jayden Stockley and Brandon Barker.

The change nearly pulled off as Sean Maguire came within inches of giving the Lillywhites a route back into the game after 47 minutes.

Ghanaian wing-back Yiadom came close to turning the ball into his own net seconds later but thankfully hooked the ball out for a corner instead.

Barker’s afternoon was cut short after he picked up what looked to be a hamstring injury, forcing Preston into a third change as Moult came on to replace him with 57 minutes played.

Reading had a swap lined up of their own meanwhile as experienced winger McCleary entered the fray in place of the dangerous Barrow.

The Jamaican international nearly made an immediate impact too as he broke free of the Preston back line and squared the ball to Ejaria who looked set to tap the ball into the back of the net.

Unfortunately for Royals, Ejaria misjudged the path of the ball and squandered a gilt-edged opportunity to finish the game off.

Reading club captain Paul McShane made his long-awaited return to first-team football on 65 minutes as he came on to replace Swift.

McCleary drove at the heart of the defence again after 68 minutes but lost the ball as he attempted to cut inside onto his favoured foot.

Reading’s domination began to fade as the visitors desperately tried to claw their way back into the match.

Meite charged through the entire length of the field before taking one touch too many and stumbling over inside the penalty area as the game entered the final 15 minutes.

He had a clear-cut penalty shout turned down moments afterwards as he appeared to have been hacked down inside the area - but referee Harrington waved away his pleas.

Preston skipper Paul Gallagher had a golden chance to snatch a goal after 83 minutes when the ball fell to him inside the box but the strike sailed harmlessly wide.

The visitors had to end the game with 10 men as the brave Pearson, who was clearly struggling, limped off with three minutes left on the clock.

They did eventually get a goal back when Louis Moult tapped the ball into the back of the net after Sean Maguire’s strike cannoned off of the post.

But it was too little too late as Royals claimed a priceless victory.

Reading are 19th in the Championship and next for them is a trip to mid-table Hull on Saturday.