West Bromwich Albion overturned a half-time deficit to ultimately run out 4-1 winners against Reading at the Hawthorns on Saturday.
- Bacuna strikes from well-worked set-piece in sixth minute
- Gayle strikes twice after half-time for Baggies
- Barnes and Bartley add to West Brom's tally
A stunning effort by Leandro Bacuna in the sixth minute had the Royals ahead, and the lead could have been extended on a number of occasions before the break.
But Dwight Gayle levelled and then put West Brom ahead after the restart, before Harvey Barnes and Kyle Bartley added gloss to the scoreline.
Paul Clement made three changes to the starting XI – Tyler Blackett and Marc McNulty made their first starts since August, while John Swift also returned for a starting role.
It meant a change in formation; Blackett’s inclusion was part of a less familiar five-man defence. Defender Tom Holmes was included amongst the subs for the first time in 2018/19.
The first effort of note went the way of Saeid Ezatolahi - collecting from John Swift, he dropped a shoulder and made space to shoot, forcing Sam Johnstone into a flying stop.
From the resulting corner, the goalkeeper was totally stranded as a blistering strike put Reading ahead. A short corner worked with Swift saw the ball rolled into the path of Bacuna, who hammered a left-footed effort in from a narrow angle, nestling in via the inside of the post.
The Royals' tails were up... and a similar set-piece routine could have yielded a second. Another short corner, but this time Swift crossed low and Ezatolahi couldn't keep his first-time effort down.
Reading's defence were keeping spaces tight and denying the hosts any true openings, despite their possession. And the Royals continued to look potent on the break; Bacuna's cross was met by a firm Yakou Meite header, which Johnstone held comfortably.
The Baggies' breaking power was also evident and almost resulted in a leveller when a loose pass in attack for Reading allowed the hosts to spring a counter. Harvey Barnes, collecting in the left channel, fizzed a cross-shot across the face of Sam Walker's goal... Dwight Gayle couldn't quite convert as he slid in.
Midway through the first period, McNulty went within inches of opening his account for Reading. A clever bending run allowed Bacuna to find him beyond the last defender, but the angle was just against him and the Scotsman's effort brushed the base of the far post on the way wide.
The chances continued to come for the visitors. Bacuna's corner found Meite on the run - his powerful header was blocked out but fell to Blackett at the far post, whose volley cleared the bar narrowly.
Barnes and Jake Livermore each had sighters for the Baggies from 25 yards, each missing the target, while full-back Yiadom stormed into space on the left and was found by Bacuna... his fierce effort from a low angle was shovelled around the post by Johnstone.
At the other end, a cleverly-lofted ball by Gayle found Barnes on the run and a low effort from wide on the left needed hooking off the line as the sheet remained clean for Reading.
Shortly before the break, Ezatolahi picked off a pass, strode into the centre circle, spotted Johnstone out of position and fired a speculative shot towards goal. It drifted off target.
Half-time: West Bromwich Albion 0-1 Reading
The Royals were made to rue missed chances in the first period when, less than five minutes after the restart, the Baggies stole level. Tyrone Mears hung up a cross from the right and Gayle, ghosting in on the far side, nodded in the equaliser.
Iranian midfielder Ezatolahi tried to find Swift on the run with a ball from deep inside the Royals half... it just slipped off the toe of Swift, allowing the exposed goalkeeper to deal with the danger.
At one goal apiece, the game was wide open. And Swift was close to sweeping Reading back ahead when he arrived unmarked onto Chris Gunter's low centre, but Johnstone gathered at the second attempt low to his left.
Instead, moments later, it was West Brom that went ahead. Barnes supplied a corner, Kyle Bartley rose highest, and Gayle flicked a toe to divert past Walker to give the hosts the advantage.
And just a few minutes later, the Baggies added a third in devastating fashion. Barnes played a give-and-goal with Jay Rodriguez, and the well-weighted return saw Leicester loanee Barnes released on goal and he steered into the far corner.
A fourth was added with ten minutes remaining when a corner was swung in by sub Chris Brunt, allowing Bartley to loop a header back across a crowded goalmouth and into the net.
Reading continued to contest the fixture with hopes of reducing the arrears, but the Baggies held onto their comfortable lead to condemn Reading to consecutive defeats.
Full-time: West Bromwich Albion 4-1 Reading
West Bromwich Albion: Johnstone, Gibbs, Bartley, Livermore (Brunt 66), Mears (Edwards 62), Barnes (Adarabioyo 88), Gayle, Barry (c), Rodriguez, Dawson, Hegazi.
Unused subs: Myhill, Robson-Kanu, Townsend, Hoolahan.
Goals: Gayle (49, 65), Barnes (72), Bartley (80).
Yellow: Dawson, Barry.
Reading: Walker, Gunter (Sims 76), Blackett, Yiadom, Moore (c), Ilori, Ezatolahi, Bacuna (Kelly 81), Swift, Meite, McNulty (Barrow 76).
Unused subs: Mannone, Aluko, Rinomhota, Holmes.
Goal: Bacuna (6).
Yellow: Swift, Ilori, Moore.
Attendance: 22,865 (907 away).
Referee: Mr D England