The Royals were hit by three second half goals that earned Rafael Benitez's Newcastle United side a 4-1 win at St James' Park this evening - a scoreline that didn't truly reflect what was a relatively promising away display from Jaap Stam's side.
The hosts took the lead through Isaac Hayden's right-footed finish, but Reading were denied by the crossbar as Roy Beerens' fine strike beat Matz Sels but not the woodwork. And Reading deservedly levelled on the stroke of half-time when Swift won a penalty and McCleary converted from the spot.
Early in the second period, the referee saw a foul inside a congested Royals box and again awarded a penalty - this time Matt Ritchie scoring to restore the Magpies' lead. The Royals had chances to bounce back again, but a well-placed free kick from Dwight Gayle gave them a two-goal cushion that they stubbornly clung on to and capped with a fourth when Gayle tapped home from close range with a minute remaining.
Stam kept faith in the same eleven that started at Molineux last Saturday, but named a fit again Joseph Mendes on the bench for the first time. Stephen Quinn was also included amongst the Royals substitutes following injury, with Liam Kelly and Callum Harriott missing out.
With just three minutes on the clock, the hosts had the ball in the back of the net. An attack down the Royals' left led to a cross in to Dwight Gayle who dived forward to connect with it and knock it past Al Habsi for 1-0...but furious appeals from the Royals led to the referee discussing the goal with his assistant and they rightly overturned the decision, adjudging the Magpies striker to have handled the ball home. Gayle was booked and the home fans' cheers were cut short.
Perez came close with a near post flick that was deflected wide, then from the corner Jonjo Shelvey's delivery found the head of Ciaran Clark, but the debutant nodded high over the bar.
With a quarter of an hour gone, the Royals had their first foray forward. Kermorgant was fed by Gunter and the French forward jinked his way forward and into the box. But his cut back couldn't find Swift and a promising move broke down.
Then, Reading came at their opponents down the left through Beerens who beat his man but cut the ball back looking for Swift once more. This time the midfielder collected it well, only to be crowded out before he could pull the trigger.
And moments later, the home side were ahead. A worked free kick was blocked by a Reading wall and then the follow-up shot bundled clear, but Isaac Hayden ran onto the loose ball and from the edge of the area squeezed a right-footed effort past Al Habsi and into the bottom left corner for 1-0.
Williams looked to respond with a speculative effort that was deflected behind by the body of Yoan Gouffran and Kermorgant couldn't keep his header down from McCleary's floated corner.
Gouffran was causing problems at the other end when he expertly directed an overhead on target, but Al Habsi gathered the shot into his body to snuff out the danger.
The Royals came within a whisker of equalising with nine minutes of the first half remaining. A fantastic counter attack started by John Swift, continued by McCleary down the right, then swung out to Beerens on the left by Swift once more, ended with a first time effort from Beerens beating Matz Sels in the Newcastle goal but clattering into the crossbar.
United cleared in a state of panic and Reading recycled the ball, before Williams arrowed a right-footed effort on target. Sels saved but the rebound fell to the feet of McCleary who arrowed just over.
In the last minute of the half, Reading equalised. A nice move down the left saw Beerens loop the ball over the top of the United defence into Swift. The Newcastle defence dispossessed him but Swift didn't give up and got a toe to the loose ball inside the area just ahead of Clark, who tripped the Royals midfielder with a clumsy challenge.
The referee pointed to the penalty spot and Garath McCleary stepped up to coolly send Sels the wrong way and make it 1-1 at St James' Park, sending the travelling fans wild.
Half-time: Newcastle 1-1 Reading
The second half began as it ended, with the referee pointing to the spot. This time he spotted an infringement in the Royals' box as a corner was delivered into the area from the left. Referee Andrew Madley booked Chris Gunter for an alleged foul on Gouffran and Matt Ritchie converted from the spot to edge Rafa Benitez's men ahead once more.
Again Stam's men looked to react. Kermorgant flicked the ball into the path of Williams, who scurried into the box but saw his left-footed effort easily saved by Sels.
A counter attack came soon after, McCleary racing clear down the right. Williams and Beerens burst into the box looking to get on the end of a cross, but instead McCleary fizzed a low ball back to the edge of the area where Kermorgant stroked a first time effort goalwards. It landed at the feet of Beerens who teed up Williams for a top corner finish, but the linesman had raised his flag against Beerens to signal offside.
Reading were threatening another equaliser and Kermorgant rose to meet a McCleary header only for the home side to hack it clear, then Dummett had to head behind a tasty Kermorgant cross from the left after Beerens had stolen possession.
Hayden almost scored a second of his own though when he was slid in on the hour - but Al Habsi was off his line quick to narrow the angle and save well with his body before smothering the loose ball.
Soon after, McCleary appealed for a penalty when he was tripped just inside the right side of the box, but referee Madley decided this time that the Newcastle leg had touched the ball first.
And for all the neat play from the visitors, United secured a two-goal cushion when Dwight Gayle arced a lovely free kick past Al Habsi's dive to make it 3-1.
Evans drove over from distance as the visitors pressed for a route back into the game. Stam introduced Meite and Mendes from the bench, but time was ticking away. And United added a late fourth when Gayle tapped home from yards out to give the scoreline a gloss it perhaps didn't warrant.
Full-time: Newcastle 4-1 Reading
Newcastle: Sels, Clark, Dummett (c), Hayden, Mbemba, Ritchie (Aarons 90), Anita, Shelvey, Perez (Lascelles 75), Gayle, Gouffran (Colback 83).
Unused sub: Darlow, Armstrong, Hanley, Janmaat.
Goals: Hayden (20), Ritchie pen (50), Gayle (69, 89)
Reading: Al-Habsi, Gunter, Obita, McShane (c), Van den Berg, Evans (Mendes 83), Williams, Swift, McCleary, Beerens (Meite 79), Kermorgant.
Unused subs: Jaakkola, Watson, Cooper, Quinn, Rakels.
Yellow: Obita, Williams, Gunter, Evans, Kermorgant.
Goals: McCleary pen (45)
Referee: Mr A Madley