Superb Royals spoil Pride Park party
- Appiah puts Royals ahead in 2nd minute
- Federici saves penalty on stroke of HT
- Hector slots home to make it 2-0
- Debutant Fosu forces Grant into three great saves
- McCleary converts late penalty for 3-0
The Royals had the lead from the second minute when Kwesi Appiah broke in behind the Rams defence and stroked the ball past Lee Grant to stun the Pride Park crowd.
Adam Federici saved Darren Bent's penalty on the stroke of half time, but Grant had to be alert to save twice from debutant youngster Tariqe Fosu in the second half before Michael Hector doubled the visitors' lead with a stabbed finish from 8 yards out.
With minutes remaining, skipper Jem Karacan was brought down by the arms of Grant inside the box and Garath McCleary made no mistake from the spot to end any faint hopes County had of reigniting their hopes of a top six finish.
Reading had ended a disappointing season in fine, fine style.
Derby County: Grant, Shotton, Keogh, Albentosa, Forsyth, Warnock (Lingard 33), Hughes, Hendrick, Russell (Martin HT), Ince, Bent.
Subs: Roos, Christie, Rawson, Ward, Sammon.
Yellow: Lingard, Shotton.
Reading: Federici, Gunter, Obita, Hector, Pearce, Chalobah, Karacan (c) (Williams 88), Norwood (Cooper 90), McCleary, Stacey (Fosu 29), Appiah.
Subs: Andersen, Kelly, Blackman, Cox.
Yellow: Norwood, Williams.
Att: 30,806 (685 away)
The Royals got off to a lightning fast start when Kwesi Appiah stole in to nip the ball past the Derby defender and race in behind the Rams defence and through on goal. He turned inside Raul Albentosa and onto his left foot and then passed the ball beyond Lee Grant to give Steve Clarke's men a second minute lead!
Needing a point to secure a play-off place, the Rams were rattled, but they almost drew level with a Tom Ince free kick that Federici did well to push wide for a corner. Ince took the set piece and Bent got his head to it but could only glance the ball wide from a good position.
But Reading were causing their hosts a few problems. The pace of Appiah kept the ball in on the byline and he fed the ball back to Norwood, whose swept cross into the middle was helped goalwards by Karacan but the ball looped over.
Federici was at full stretch to save a Darren Bent effort from the edge of the area, then he had to be down low to his right to prevent Nathaniel Chalobah turned into his own net at the far post from the corner. And it took a goalline headed clearance from Garath McCleary to thwart Derby once more moments later as they threatened to make it 1-1 from a string of corners.
Wolves had taken the lead at Molineux so Derby needed a goal and Tom Ince's low cut back fell to the feet of Johnny Russell who lashed an effort into the side netting.
Stacey, who had enjoyed a good half an hour, was cruelly forced off with an injury, allowing Clarke to hand a professional debut to youngster Tariqe Fosu. Then Steve McClaren, knowing his side needed to get back into the game, replaced Stephen Warnock with Jesse Lingard.
Karacan crossed into the Derby box and Appiah directed a header wide with ten minutes of the first half remaining. Then Pearce had to be alert to slide in ahead of Bent as a low cross fizzed its way into the Royals' six yard box from the left.
It was so nearly 2-0 soon after though. Oliver Norwood arced a powerful free kick past the hosts' wall and it took a wonderful save from Grant low to his right to tip it just wide.
But on the stroke of half-time. Derby had a golden opportunity to make it 1-1. Russell edged past Jordan Obita down the right side of the box and in grappling to get back to him Obita was adjudged to have pulled the Rams midfielder down. Referee James Linington pointed to the spot, but Darren Bent's spokick was saved by the brilliant Adam Federici and Reading kept their lead going into the interval.
Steve McClaren made a change at half-time, bringing on striker Chris Martin for Russell. But it was Reading who almost scored a second when Fosu unleashed an effort from distance that forced Grant into a great save. Karacan followed it in but his instinctive diving header looped up and over the bar to County's relief.
Then half a chance came Appiah's way when Gunter's cross was hooked goalwards but wide. Moments later, Appiah drove at the Derby defence and fed Karacan who found a yard to get a shot away from inside the area. His shot was blocked and as Appiah hunted the rebound, the offside flag was raised.
Fosu came within a whisker of making it 2-0 after good work from Chalobah had seen the midfielder burst away from Hughes and toe the ball into the young winger's feet. He turned inside onto his left boot but stabbed an effort inches wide.
The home fans were growing frustrated, Reading defending their lead well with men behind the ball, yet also carrying a constant threat on the counter attack.
Fosu forced Grant into another very good save when he collected a deep corner, cut onto his right boot and curled an effort at goal which Grant leapt high to tip over.
But he could do nothing to keep out Michael Hector moments later. An inswinging corner from the left wasn't cleared by the Rams' defence and Hector pounced on the loose ball to sidefoot home from 8 yards out.
Hector should have made it 3-0 with little more than 11 minutes left. A corner was recycled on the left and lofted back into the box where Hector stood unmarked six yards out, but he mistimed his header in trying to generate enough power on the effort and Derby breathed a sigh of relief.
With five minutes remaining, the Royals made it 3-0! Obita cut the ball back to Chalobah on the edge of the box who looked to volley but instead threaded the ball into Karacan who turned and was tripped by the outstretched arm of Grant inside the box. The referee pointed to the same spot as he had in the first half and Garath McCleary sent Grant the wrong way to put the game to bed
Bent was forced wide by Federici coming off his line, then Martin arrowed high over the bar, but a stunned Derby were well beaten. Fosu almost capped an incredible debut display with a goal late on, only for Grant to deny the young winger once more. But Reading had spoiled the party.