A well-taken first half strike from James Wilson was enough to separate second-placed Brighton from Brian McDermott's Royals at the Amex this evening on a blustery and bitterly cold evening on the south coast.
Brighton were the better side in the first half, bustling their opponents out of possession and creating opportunities in front of goal - and they were deserving of their lead that came their way on the counter-attack when Sam Baldock set up Wilson for a left-footed finish. But the Royals fought hard in the second period and arguably deserved more from a tight game, with Robson-Kanu, John and Hector coming closest to drawing level. But few clear cut chances were created and Reading left with nothing to show for their efforts.
Royals boss Brian McDermott made four changes to the eleven that started our FA Cup quarter-final on Friday night, handing starts to the eligible again Yann Kermorgant, fit-again Danny Williams and Matej Vydra, whilst also bringing in Anton Ferdinand at the back in place of the suspended Jake Cooper. Chris Hughton, meanwhile, named former Royal Liam Rosenior in his back line, but started with another ex-Reading man on the bench...Steve Sidwell.
The first chance of the game came Reading's way when Robson-Kanu came inside from the right to feed Vydra. He took a touch and looked to pull the trigger but as he was crowded out Robson-Kanu nipped in to stab an effort towards the bottom left corner and it glanced off the outside of the post in dribbling wide of David Stockdale's goal.
Anthony Knockaert then found the side netting after good work from Baldock had set him up to shoot past Al Habsi but wide. And Beram Kayal's deflected free kick was gobbled up by our Omani international on his goalline with a quarter of an hour gone.
Al Habsi did very well to save a much better chance for the hosts moments later. Baldock weaved his way forward and laid the ball into the path of Dale Stephens who shot first time at goal only for Al Habsi to save well with his legs.
With 20 minutes gone, a dangerous Baldock cross from the right couldn't be met by the outstretched leg of Wilson in the middle. And the pressure told when Brighton took the lead with 24 minutes gone. Breaking from their own half, Hughton's men fashioned an opportunity for Wilson following some nifty footwork from the lively Baldock once more, and Wilson placed a first time left-footed effort past the dive of Al Habsi and in off the right post for 1-0.
With ten minutes of the half remaining, Vydra took aim and forced Stockdale into an untidy save with a swerving effort from range. Hector followed in and got to the rebound first but under pressure from Bruno and the recovering Stockdale he was forced to fire his first time follow-up effort high over the bar from six yards out.
Yann Kermorgant arced a set piece towards goal soon after but it took a deflected and dropped wide, then Stockdale nervily punched clear a John inswinging corner - but Brighton took their slender lead into half-time, Wilson heading over from a free kick in the last action of the first 45.
Half-time: Brighton 1 Reading 0
The Seagulls came close to a second ten minutes into the second half when Knockaert made progress down the left and pulled the ball back for Baldock who arrowed the ball over from 15 yards out.
And the hosts were giving Reading no time or space on the ball. They harried Kermorgant out of possession on the hour and set up another chance, this time Jamie Murphy rifled a low shot across the face of goal and wide.
Brian McDermott brought on Garath McCleary soon after and his first contribution was to float a lovely cross into the box where Robson-Kanu rose to head goalwards, but it was straight at Stockdale who gathered it into his body on the goalline.
And the Royals were enjoying much more of the play in the final third as they pressed hard for an equaliser. With 14 minutes, they had a great chance to get it. McCleary won a free kick on the left and floated it deep into the Albion box where Gunter lofted a ball back across the face of goal where it dropped for John who lined up a volley but scuffed his effort up an over the crossbar.
Stephens then whipped a free kick into the Reading area and Dunk nodded the ball goalwards, but Kermorgant was in the right place at the right time to head the ball away from danger inside his six yard box.
Ten minutes remained when Hector drilled an effort against the post moments after the referee's whistle had sounded to give a free kick in Robson-Kanu's favour. But HRK curled his set piece harmlessly over the crossbar and Reading were running out of time.
Former Royal Steve Sidwell came on to make sure the home side held on to the points and after three minutes of injury time had elapsed the referee blew for full time and Brighton climbed into an automatic promotion place with victory.
Full-time: Brighton 1 Reading 0
Brighton: Stockdale, Bruno (c), Dunk, Goldson, Rosenior, Knockaert (LuaLua 76), Stephens, Kayal, Murphy (Bong 76), Wilson, Baldock.
Subs: Maenpaa, Greer, Sidwell, Skalak, Hemed.
Reading: Al Habsi, Gunter, Obita, Ferdinand, McShane (c), Hector, Williams, John (Rakels 81), Robson-Kanu, Kermorgant, Vydra (McCleary 63).
Subs: Bond, Taylor, Norwood, Quinn, Cox.
Referee: Mr S Martin