Three goals, a clean sheet and three points for the Royals. A successful afternoon in RG2 as Derby were downed 3-0 in our final fixture before Christmas.
Charlie Adam struck in the fifth minute from the spot as Scott Malone’s challenge in the area drew a red card. And then after the break, Lucas João widened the margin before Yakou Méïté sealed a win from another penalty.
There was an attacking lilt to the starting line-up – Yakou Méïté, Lucas João and Sam Baldock all began in a front three. Meanwhile John Swift, who had been missing through injury in recent weeks, was deemed fit enough for inclusion amongst the substitutes.
Within a few minutes of kick-off, the Royals were a man up and a goal up as a quick counter reaped big rewards. It was the front three that combined – Baldock spun on halfway and fed João, who had the wherewithal to spot the run of Méïté unchecked through the middle.
Trying to recover, defender Scott Malone prevented Méïté from getting a shot away – but fouling him in the process. The referee pointed to the spot, dipped into his pocket to produce a red card for Malone, and Adam stepped up to take the penalty. Drilled decisively past Ben Hamer for the opener.
Even with the numerical disadvantage, the Rams could have levelled within a matter of minutes as Tom Lawrence scampered onto a pinpoint through ball. A stinging strike cracked against the woodwork at Rafael’s near side.
Derby’s ten men were well-organised at the back and not leaving any more gaps to exploit. Picking their moments at the other end, they went close as Duane Holmes sent in a long throw – Jason Knight hit a half-volley from just inside the area but over Rafael’s goal.
Twice in succession, the could have been further in front. Ovie Ejaria slid in Baldock left of goal, who could only hit side netting, and then Méïté stormed through the middle and drilled a yard wide of Hamer’s near post.
And then João was close to getting on the scoresheet as Méïté broke through and squared – the intent was good as he tried to use his quick footwork to round a challenge in the area, but the ball got stuck under his feet and a timely tackle came in.
Martyn Waghorn had a shooting chance from a free-kick but hammered into the wall, and then Knight forced a flying stop from Rafael as he strode downfield, played a one-two and fizzed a fierce effort.
Another fine stop from Brazilian goalie Rafael kept the lead intact as Waghorn drifted onto a well-weighted forward ball, controlled on his chest and fired low. Knight was upended by Tyler Blackett as he tried to turn on the rebound; the referee waved away cries for a penalty.
Half-time: Reading 1-0 Derby County
Early in the second half, Baldock came close. Ejaria capitalised as a cross-field ball was underhit and bounded forward. Baldock received inside the box and fired through the crowd; Hamer saw it in time to react with an outstretched palm.
Hamer denied Baldock again, this time at his near post, as he combined with João brilliantly. A couple of sumptuous touches and a delightful back-heel from the Portuguese forward allowed Baldock to smash one, but well saved.
There was a heart-in-mouth moment when Knight went down in the area with Adam nearby - but the referee saw that he'd taken a tumble without any contact, and booked the Derby man. Captain Curtis Davies also got his name taken for his protestations.
Soon after, the Royals had the ball in the net at the other end. It was simple stuff too - sub Swift, who had replaced Rinomhota a few minutes earlier, received on the right and played a delicate low cross into the path of João, whose run had gone unchecked. The forward swept in from inside the six-yard box.
The Rams refused to go down tamely. They were still getting onto second balls sharply and Knight's eyes lit up when he picked up 25 yards from goal. A rocket of a shot had the goalie beaten, but cannoned back into play off the crossbar.
Méïté had been in the thick of the physical battle all afternoon and used his strength to hold off a challenge on the right, and cut inside. A venomous effort was dipping as it flew towards goal; Hamer couldn't hold but managed to scoop it away.
As the game ticked on, it became increasingly stretched as Derby looked for a way back in, and the Royals looked to exploit on the break. João drew a save from Hamer as Reading broke in numbers, and then Chris Gunter's low cut-back found sub Lucas Boyé, who controlled in the area rather to striking first time - and a saving tackle came in.
But when João went through on goal again, he was taken down by Forsyth in the area - a sliding tackle which was ill-timed and caused the referee to point to the spot for the second time. Forsyth was booked, and Méïté stepped up to fire into the bottom corner decisively.
The lead could have been further extended as the Royals broke on the counter regularly but couldn't apply another finish in the pouring rain.
It mattered little. 3-0 it ended - reasons to be cheerful this Christmas for Royals supporters.
Full-time: Reading 3-0 Derby County
Reading: Rafael, Gunter, Blackett, Moore (c), Morrison, Adam (Pelé 66), Rinomhota (Swift 52), Ejaria, Méïté, João, Baldock (Boyé 72).
Unused subs: Walker, McCleary, Howe, Richards.
Goals: Adam (5 pen), João (58), Méïté (87 pen).
Yellow: Adam, Blackett.
Derby County: Hamer, Forsyth, Bielik (Sibley 70), Waghorn, Lawrence (Marriott 83), Martin (Lowe 6), Holmes, Davies (c), Bogle, Knight, Malone.
Unused subs: Roos, Dowell, Wisdom, Whittaker.
Yellow: Lawrence, Knight, Davies, Lowe, Holmes, Bogle, Sibley, Forsyth.
Referee: Mr M Salisbury
Attendance: 14,831 (1,381 away)