- Gomes saves from the lively McCleary
- Angella sent off on stroke of half-time
- Blackman stabs wide from close range
- Abdi drives home winner from 15 yards
Almen Abdi spoiled Steve Clarke's start to life as Royals boss, driving home the only goal of the game to hand ten-man Watford a win at Madejski Stadium.
Fortunes seemed to be favouring the home side when Gabriele Angella was sent off for handling the ball on the edge of the box as he fell on it after McCleary had beaten him - a second yellow earning him and early bath.
And with the game still goalless, Glenn Murray fired wide when one on one with Gomes, Blackman slid in but could only stab the ball the wrong side of the woodwork and McCleary forced the Brazilian stopper into a good low save.
Then Abdi took the Hornets' one chance, driving low through a crowd of bodies and past Federici from 15 yards out, sending the travelling support wild. Gunter had an appeal for a penalty turned down, but Watford threw all ten men behind the ball and defended their lead stoutly until the final whistle sounded.
Reading: Federici; Gunter, Obita, Hector, Pearce (c), Norwood, Williams (Cooper 90), McCleary, Blackman, Cox, Murray.
Subs: Andersen, Cummings, Kelly, Taylor, Stacey, Tanner
Watford: Gomes; Angella, Bassong, Cathcart; Anya (Dyer 78), Tozser, Guedioura, Abdi, Pudil; Deeney (c) (Ighalo 83), Vydra (Paredes HT).
Subs: Bond, Doyley, Murray, Forestieri.
Yellow: Abdi, Angella
Referee: Mr Gavin Ward
18,522 (2,749 away)
Glenn Murray had a difficult but very early chance to get Steve Clarke's reign off to a stunning start, ghosting in at the far post but sidefooting a volley over the bar after a good deep cross from the left had beaten Watford's back line.
Adam Federici was in early action himself though, making sure a looping Pudil header didn't creep inside his right post by turning the ball behind for a corner.
Oliver Norwood swept a free kick over the crossbar from the edge of the area, while a good Murray block denied Deeney as he tried to turn on the ball to shoot when a low corner fell to his feet eight yards out.
It was an end to end start to the game and moments after Federici produced a diving save to stop a swerving Abdi effort, Reading broke and McCleary's low cross almost found Cox in the middle.
With half an hour played, Chris Gunter popped up in a striker's position to scare the Hornets, McCleary's deep cross was only cleared as far as Cox, who hooked the ball back in towards the edge of the six yard box and Gunter's diving header could only get a glance, Gomes' goal untroubled.
Gunter then beat his man to reach the byline and crossed well towards Blackman at the far post, but the forward couldn't direct his header on target and it flew into the travelling fans.
Reading were certainly impressing though and Gunter combined with McCleary to almost force an opening with ten minutes of the first half remaining. The latter cut a low cross back from the byline and Abdi intercepted only to turn the ball into his own goal's side netting.
Pudil's backheel set Abdi away down the left and his cross was cleared by Hector before Deeney's follow-up scissor kick fell wide, but Murray came closer moments later when Obita ran into some space down the left and crossed into the near post where Murray beat Gomes to the ball but could only flick wide of the target and out for a goal kick.
With one minute of injury time signalled, the game took an interesting twist. McCleary ran at Angella who fell to the ground and seemed to block the ball's path with an arm. Already booked, the Hornets defender was shown another yellow and sent off.
Slavisa Jokanovic brought Juan Carlos Paredes on for Vydra to cover for Angella's absence, but the Hornets began the better of the sides after the restart, winning a string of corners.
But Murray had a golden chance to break the deadlock nine minutes into the second half. Running onto Obita's ball down the left, he headed the ball past Cathcart and was scurrying in on goal from the left side of the box. He passed the ball wide of the onrushing Gomes but it skimmed just wide of the far corner that he was aiming for and Watford had survived a scare.
On the hour, Williams burst forward and fed McCleary in space to his left. Gomes got down well to parry the winger's rasping drive and Gunter's follow up was deflected into the side netting from a tight angle. Reading were looking to turn the screw and Cox almost stabbed home from the resultant corner only for it to ricochet off a body or two before being cleared.
Minutes later, Reading should have taken the lead. McCleary beat his man and crossed low across the face of goal to Blackman at the far post who slid in but could only get a glancing touch with a sliding leg that sent the ball inches wide from close range.
Williams fired over as time began to tick away, Watford putting numbers behind the ball and trying to hit the hosts on the break. And that's exactly what they did to open the scoring with 20 minutes remaining. A cut back from Anya on the left bobbled into the path of Abdi
who drive home through a crowd of bodies to hand the Hornets a largely undeserved 1-0 advantage.
Chris Gunter burst onto a McCleary ball with a lung-busting overlap and he was barged over in the box by Bassong, but appeals for a penalty were waved away by referee Gavin Ward.
Six minutes left on the clock and McCleary's deep cross was headed back across by Murray and Blackman tried an overhead that sailed over the crossbar. Cox then barged his way onto a Gunter up and under but Gomes wasn't troubled and Watford saw out the remaining time relatively comfortably holding onto their advantage until the final whistle to send their supporters into raptures.