Reading fell to a 2-0 defeat in Cardiff this afternoon thanks to goals from Kenwyne Jones and Matthew Connolly either side of half-time - but it took a brilliant individual performance from David Marshall between the City posts to deny Reading a goal and any reward from a closely-contested encounter.
Jones headed home the opening goal two minutes before half-time and former Royals loanee Connolly rose highest to head a second past Al Habsi and into the top left corner soon after the restart. But Marshall denied Sa, Hector, Blackman, Norwood and other on countless occasions as Steve Clarke's side sought a way back into the game - making a string of three great saves on the trot with 15 minutes remaining that typified the keeper's performance.
The Royals starting line-up included five changes in total from that which started at home against Huddersfield on Tuesday night. Orlando Sa, goalscorer Ola John and midfielder Alex Fernandez came into the side - the latter making his first start for the club. Andrew Taylor replaced Jordan Obita at left-back, while Michael Hector stepped in for Paul McShane in the middle, wearing the captain's armband in the Irish international's absence.
Matej Vydra won a 3rd minute free kick when his scampering run was halted by the arm of ex-Royal Matthew Connolly, but Nick Blackman struck his effort straight into the City wall.
At the other end a sliding block from Norwood was enough to deflect Pilkington's effort from range harmlessly wide, but Sean Morrison got his head to Pilkington's outswinging corner only to see Ali Al Habsi punch the ball clear of a crowded six yard box.
Craig Noone twice cut in from the right, firstly testing Al Habsi's handling with a left-footed effort that bounced in front of the Omani stopper, then seeing a shot blocked by a good tackle from Andrew Taylor.
Ola John raced down the left, with the game a quarter of an hour old, and his early low cross couldn't be controlled by Sa and Cardiff scrapped it clear before Vydra could get involved. Blackman nearly threaded a ball into Vydra moments later as Reading began to press for that all-important opening goal.
Norwood delivered a good set piece to the far post and Lee Peltier had to rise above Ferdinand to turn it behind for a corner. But a low cross from Mason on the left almost picked out Noone in the middle, only for ex-Bluebird Taylor to hook a boot around it on the edge of the six yard box moments before the Cardiff man could turn it goalwards.
Marshall was called into action when Norwood's swerving effort from distance needed parrying, then John drove into a Cardiff body from the edge of the box.
And with five minutes of the first half remaining, Vydra stole in upon a slip from Gunnarsson in midfield to break - the ball was fed into the box for Blackman to scurry onto but his low shot was well saved by Marshall and Vydra couldn't get to the rebound first this time.
But on the stroke of half time a fairly even first half tipped in Cardiff's favour when a free kick on the right was curled dangerously into the Reading box and danger man Kenwyne Jones
headed neatly inside the right post to make it 1-0.
There was a great chance for Reading to level before the whistle could sound. Norwood hooked a brilliant first time ball into the City box, Blackman won the header at the far post, it dropped to Sa who expertly skipped between two Cardiff defenders but saw his close range right-footed drive saved by the chest of Marshall.
Half-time: Cardiff City 1 Reading 0
A scrappy start to the second half soon led to a second Cardiff goal. Again, the hosts profited from a cross into the box, this time from a corner on the left - and Connolly
rose above Ferdinand to direct a header into the top corner of a helpless Al Habsi's goal.
Blackman collected a nice reverse pass from Gunter, but his arrowed effort was kept out by a good save from Marshall - then at the other end Gunnarsson produced a cheeky flick on the break to get in behind the back line, but he drove wide of the far post to Reading's relief.
Luck was also on City's side; Marshall's miskicked clearance was closed down by Vydra but the ball skidded off the striker to a Cardiff body. There was nothing lucky about Marshall's excellent save from another Norwood piledriver moments later and Steve Clarke brought on Danny Williams and debutant Rowan Liburd in an attempt to change things.
Williams lashed an effort over wit 20 minutes to play, but Cardiff were defending their lead well with the help of an in-form Marshall. And Noone arced an effort inches wide of the far post soon after to reiterate the threat the hosts posed at the other end.
Again Marshall denied Reading a goal, Blackman this time cutting inside off the right flank to thunder an effort towards goal only for the City stopper to save well.
With 15 minutes remaining, Liburd escaped his man on the right side and powered to the byline, but his chipped cross was gathered by Marshall...Paolo Hurtado came on for Vydra, but Reading were running out of time.
Russell Slade brought on Idriss Saadi and the substitute almost made an impact within the first minute of being on the pitch, getting a yard on Hector to force Al Habsi into a very good low left-handed save.
Marshall tipped a brilliant Norwood free kick over his crossbar - and then somehow the Bluebirds keeper kept out a Hector volley from Norwood's corner. And, incredibly, from the subsequent corner...Marshall again. This time tipping a Sa header over his crossbar.
Blackman struck a free-kick wide of the top left corner and it wasn't going to be Reading's afternoon.
Full-time: Cardiff City 2 Reading 0Cardiff City
: Marshall (c), Peltier, Connolly, Morrison, Ralls, Mason (Ameobi 63), Noone, Gunnarsson, Malone, Pilkington (O'Keefe 87), Jones (Saadi 77).
Subs: Moore, Dikgacoi, Tamas, Kennedy.
Goal: Jones (43), Connolly (52)
Yellow: Noone, Peltier.
Al-Habsi, Gunter, A Taylor, Hector (c), Ferdinand, Norwood, Fernandez (Williams 63), John (Liburd 63), Blackman, Vydra (Hurtado 77), Sa.
Subs: Bond, Obita, Cooper, McCleary.
Referee: Mr K Stroud