An enthralling game at Carrow Road yielded nothing for Reading, who were defeated 3-2 at the hands of Norwich City.
- Vrancic and Hanley convert corners to open two-goal lead for hosts
- Kelly hits one back with instinctive finish
- Maddison wins penalty and slots in before half-time
- Smith's first league goal gives Reading hope after the break
Mario Vrancic, Grant Hanley and a James Maddison penalty in the first half was enough for the Canaries; ex-Academy pair Liam Kelly and Sam Smith netted either side of the break in reply for Reading.
Royals boss Jaap Stam made two changes to his starting XI, as a pair of Academy graduates were drafted in.
Liam Kelly, fit again, was named in midfield and striker Sam Smith began up front in place of the injured Jón Daði Böðvarsson. A shame to miss the Icelander, as the game kicked off in conditions befitting of his homeland – sub-zero temperatures and snow lashing down.
With just seconds on the clock, the two teams had an extended break as Smith’s late challenge on Timm Klose – unpunished by the referee – left the Canaries defender on the deck clutching his ankle. He was eventually deemed fit to continue.
Onel Hernandez was first to provide a real threat, but Chris Gunter deflected his cross into the side netting. And at the other end, Sone Aluko picked off a pass and curled a cross into the box… on the stretch, Grant Hanley diverted the ball towards his own goal but goalie Angus Gunn adjusted to save.
But 14 minutes into the game, the deadlock had been broken – a setback for Reading. Successive corners came in from the right; the first dealt with well enough, but James Maddison’s second was flicked on by Hanley, allowing Vrancic to steal in at the far post and head into the unguarded part of the goal.
Norwich were close to doubling their advantage, with Vrancic’s work in his own half creating the opportunity. After shaking off the attention of three blue and white hooped shirts, he found Josh Murphy in the left channel, whose subsequent low cross was squandered high over the bar by Hernandez as he rushed into the area.
Mo Barrow, who had switched out to the right flank, cut inside and delivered a cross which had the Canaries defence backtracking and Gunn in two minds. Smith peeled off to the back post but couldn’t generate the power or direction with his header to level things up.
Instead, the second goal of the game went Norwich’s way, again from a set-piece. Maddison’s corner, from the other side this time, was met by Hanley’s towering header to widen the margin.
Shortly after the half-hour mark, Reading had the pendulum swinging back in their direction. Trickery on the left byline resulted in a free-kick for the Royals – Kelly drilled towards goal, Gunn saved initially and kept out Aluko’s follow-up, but Kelly was able to sweep in to get Reading back within one.
Norwich didn’t take long to re-establish their two-goal margin. Murphy sent in another delivery from the left which Anssi Jaakkola came to take, but he fouled Maddison in the process of winning the ball and the referee had little hesitation in awarding a spot-kick. Maddison dusted himself down and sent Jaakkola the wrong way from 12 yards.
Half-time: Norwich City 3-1 Reading
The Royals weren't going to go down without a fight - and seven minutes after the restart, they were back within a goal. Kelly, picking up wide on the left, sent in an inswinging delivery which cut out the defence, allowing Smith to poke a volley past Gunn for his first Championship goal.
The Canaries continued to pose attacking threats as Hernandez darted in off the right; Liam Moore, trying to block the effort, ended up deflecting the effort against his own post with Jaakkola stranded.
Sub John Swift began to pull the strings in midfield; a quick link-up with Pelle Clement allowed him to set captain Chris Gunter to the byline. His low cross was met at the near post by Smith... just the wrong side of the post.
Norwich had a chance to kill the game off when Dennis Srbeny was clean through on goal; Reading were expecting a free-kick as Murphy kicked Liam Moore in the head with a high boot, but the ref allowed play to continue. Mercifully, the German shanked his effort wide.
Into the final ten minutes, Yann Kermorgant was introduced... and almost levelled with his first touch. Barrow sent in a low corner from the right which the Frenchman diverted towards goal, but Gunn adjusted quickly to palm clear off the line.
And, as the game ticked into five added minutes, some delightful link-up allowed Swift to square for Kermorgant – Gunn was grateful for a deflection which took it into his arms. Moments later, Barrow's cross-cum-shot fizzed inches past the far post. Fine margins.
A fighting effort from Reading but not enough to come away with any spoils to show for it.
Full-time: Norwich City 3-2 Reading
Norwich City: Gunn, Pinto (c), Reed, Vrancic, Murphy (Hoolahan 90), Klose, Maddison, Hernandez, Lewis, Hanley, Srbeny (Watkins 89).
Unused subs: McGovern, Husband, Zimmermann, Oliveira, Edwards.
Goals: Vrancic 14, Hanley 26, Maddison 37 pen.
Yellow: Hernandez, Hanley.
Reading: Jaakkola, Gunter (c), Blackett, Moore, Ilori, Edwards (Kermorgant 82), Clement, Kelly (Van den Berg 62), Aluko (Swift 53), Barrow, Smith.
Unused subs: Mannone, Evans, Bacuna, Holmes.
Goals: Kelly 32, Smith 52.
Yellow: Jaakkola, Clement, Barrow, Blackett, Kermorgant.
Referee: Oliver Langford