Clinical Albion climb to top spot with winAn in form Brighton side preserved the best home record in the division by winning 3-0 at home to the Royals this evening, courtesy of goals from Sam Baldock, Jamie Murphy and Anthony Knockaert.
Newcastle had dropped points at home to Bristol City earlier in the day and Albion took full advantage - the Royals were caught on the counter attack by a ruthless home side who also hit the woodwork when the game was goalless. Reading will now focus their attentions on back to back home games against Wolves and then Newcastle United at Madejski Stadium.
Reading made three changes to the eleven that narrowly lost at Huddersfield in midweek, bringing Yann Kermorgant, George Evans and captain Paul McShane back into the starting eleven in place of Lewis Grabban, Liam Kelly and Jordan Obita. Joey van den Berg returned to the squad, taking up a place on the bench at the Amex.
Brighton began the brighter, Shane Duffy coming close with a difficult back post header from a deep inswinging corner from the right. And after a quarter of an hour the lively Knockaert pulled the ball back from the byline on the right where Bruno burst onto it only to direct his effort well side on the slide.
Reading began to exert their passing game on the hosts though and were bossing possession without creating too much in the opening 20 minutes, although a counter attack led by Beerens almost opened Albion up - the threaded ball into McCleary was played inches in front of the winger though and David Stockdale was able to come out to clear the danger.
Jamie Murphy led a counter attack for Brighton moments later but Yann Kermorgant tracked the player all the way back to the edge of the Reading penalty area and slid in to pass the ball back to Ali Al Habsi.
But the Seagulls hit the woodwork soon after when they broke at pace when they intercepted a low cross from Beerens and sped away on the break. The ball was fed to the feet of Sam Baldock on the left who cut inside McShane and curled a superb effort against the right post with Al Habsi a spectator.
With half an hour gone, chances at both ends. First, Blackett strode into space down the left and pulled a nice cross back for Williams just inside the Brighton box. His powerful header was gathered in by Stockdale though, who launched an attack for the home side with a long kick out to the right flank. A header down was collected by Knockaert who scurried straight at goal only to see his skidding shot saved by Al Habsi low to his right.
A moment later and Reading had a good chance. McCleary toed the ball through to Beerens who with space to turn 10 yards out, stabbed a shot through the legs of his marker and forced a good save from Stockdale who parried with his legs.
But Brighton were ahead with ten minutes of the first half remaining. A direct ball from Bruno found the run of Baldock who controlled the ball brilliantly as it dropped over his shoulder and held off the attentions of McShane to hook home from close range.
McShane came close to an immediate equaliser when he glanced a header just wide of the top right corner following a recycled corner that was dinked back into the area by Beerens on the left.
Al Habsi did well to snuff out a Knockaert shot from the narrowest of angles with three minutes of the first half left on the clock. But Brighton went in at the break with the advantage.
Half-time: Brighton 1-0 Reading
Glenn Murray took the first shot at goal after the restart, a tame effort from 25 yards that Al Habsi was able to watch bobble harmlessly wide.
A good block from McShane denied Murphy a clear sight of goal next, as Brighton looked to press Reading high in search of a second that would arguably kill the game.
The Royals worked a shot at goal at the other end soon after, Beerens beating Bruno with a stepover in a central position but drilling a left-footed effort across the face of goal and wide.
Then a goalline clearance preserved Brighton's lead when a cross from the left was met by the head of Williams who beat Stockdale with his effort but not the defender on the line.
And Reading were to rue that missed chance when Albion scored a second with a well-executed counter attack. Again it began with a cross into the box from Reading, but clearing the ball to Knockaert, Brighton broke in numbers and at pace and the ball was fed into the path of Murphy in space. He bore down on Al Habsi and lofted the ball over the onrushing keeper to make it 2-0.
It could have been three soon after when Beerens' ball into midfield fell to a Brighton man and again they didn't hesitate to attack the Reading box. They worked it to the right where Knockaert was in space but thankfully under pressure from Moore he arrowed his effort into the side netting.
Murray had the ball in the back of the Reading net but the offside flag was raised to silence the home fans celebrating what they thought was 3-0.
At the other end, Williams won a free kick in a dangerous position but substitute Swift couldn't beat the Brighton wall and with 22 minutes remaining Stam introduced Liam Kelly in a last attempt to try to change things.
Brighton were oozing with confidence in the knowledge that a win would take them back to the top of the table, and Baldock volleyed a speculative effort high over the bar when he chased down an up and under.
But Lewis Grabban's first impact after coming off the bench was to win a free kick as the already cautioned Sidwell tripped him on the edge of the box. Kermorgant's curling set piece was headed clear by the Brighton wall though and Gunter's well-struck follow up fizzed wide from distance.
But Brighton made it 3-0 with ten minutes to go, capitalising on a misplaced pass in midfield and bursting forward. This time the extra man in space was Knockaert who picked his spot and placed a fine right-footed shot past Al Habsi's dive and inside the right post.
Reading kept going, looking for a consolation for the travelling fans to celebrate and Beerens threaded the ball into Blackett inside the box only for the left-back's shot-cross to be thwarted by another sliding challenge from the hosts. Then Williams' sidefooted effort was easily cut out.
Four minutes of injury time played out, but the Royals were well beaten. Wolves and bouncing back at home next weekend became the priority as soon as the final whistle sounded.
Full-time: Brighton 3-0 Reading
Brighton: Stockdale, Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Pocognoli (Tomori 83), Stephens, Sidwell, Murphy, Knockaert, Baldock (Akpom 82), Murray (Hemed 76).
Subs: Walton, Huenemeier, Kayal, March.
Goals: Baldock (35), Murphy (56)
Yellow: Stephens, Sidwell.
Reading: Al-Habsi, Gunter, Blackett, Moore, McShane (c), Evans (Kelly 69), Williams, Mutch (Swift 56), McCleary (Grabban 72), Beerens, Kermorgant.
Subs: Jaakkola, Obita, Van den Berg, Popa.
Att: 29,613 (2,032 away)