A goal of the highest quality by John Swift was the difference between Reading and Queens Park Rangers, as it ended 1-0 in the Royals’ favour on Boxing Day.
A sumptuous, unsavable half-volley from the edge of the area on the midfielder’s return to the starting line-up was worthy of being the match-winner – and so it proved come the final whistle as Reading brought up the mid-point of their league season.
There were two changes to the Royals’ starting XI for the late Boxing Day kick-off – John Swift and Pelé each returned to the starting line-up, while Matt Miazga, Jordan Obita, Danny Loader and Michael Olise all returned to the bench.
Possession belonged almost exclusively to the Royals in the early exchanges – players looking confident in possession and with their passing.
And twice in a matter of seconds, Joe Lumley came to the rescue to preserve parity – Ovie Ejaria forced a flying save from the stopper as he steamed onto a Chris Gunter cut-back, and then he palmed away Swift’s follow-up from 25 yards; another fierce effort which needed keeping out.
Full-back Gunter, ever willing to get forward in support of the attack, could have opened the scoring in spectacular fashion. It was a bold burst inside from the Welshman, riding a challenge and playing into the feet of Lucas João, before lashing with his left foot on the return. Not far over.
QPR’s chances were few and far between – Eberechi Eze was wildly off target with a long-range free-kick after Pelé had knocked down Bright Osayi-Samuel on a Rangers counter.
João had a half-hearted penalty appeal waved away after he tried to pirouette onto a ball inside from Tyler Blackett – Geoff Cameron deemed not to have committed any offence the ref. Then João threaded a straight ball into the overlapping Swift, but marginally overhit and meaning the midfielder’s shot came from a narrow angle, allowing Lumley to collect.
The travelling fans had a brief moment of elation, which was quickly quashed by a raised flag. It was simple enough stuff as Osayi-Samuel, who had gone over to the right flank, was released clean through – but Jordan Hugill hadn’t held his run and was a yard offside as he turned in a low cross.
There were signs of life from Rangers; Eze had spot-kick shouts turned down when he ran into Liam Moore in the Royals' box, shortly after QPR skipper Grant Hall had headed wide from a corner.
Pelé and Adam each delivered teasing crosses which Yakou Méïté and João were each in turn close to getting onto the end of – at the break, it had been mostly Reading but the scoresheet was blank.
Half-time: Reading 0-0 Queens Park Rangers
The Royals' positive intent carried over into the second half, and Adam's clever drop of a shoulder bought him space to fire in a cross, which found João in the middle - but the offside flag was up as he received.
But when the breakthrough came, it was nothing short of stunning - one of the goals which we'll see over and over again.
A corner came in from the left; the headed clearance only came as far as Swift on the edge of the area, who took one touch to control before rifling in a half-volley which, at full stretch, Lumley could do nothing about. Right into the angle of bar and post - simply unstoppable by Swift.
One could have become two as the Royals played their way out of danger to set up an attack. João sprayed a pass wide, and stormed into the box to get on the end of Gunter's delivery - marginally over with the header.
Then Rangers could consider themselves unlucky not to level things up through danger-man Eze - he blistered inside with the ball from the left and spun onto Osayi-Samuel's cut-back, but Michael Morrison cleared off the line and Tyler Blackett poked away before a rebound could be stabbed in.
It took untul the 73rd minute before the first yellow card was brandished; Gunter took one for the team as Eze threatened to stride into the area. It was Eze who took the resultant free-kick but missed high and wide of Rafael's goal.
QPR were committing men forward in search of the equaliser; Reading were having to batten down the hatches and hold onto what they had. And they came within the crossbar's width of going level through sub Ilias Chair, who cut inside from the right and thundered against the woodwork. It bounced down and just on the right side of the bar, from a Royals' point of view.
Creative duo Swift and Ejaria made way for Olise and Lucas Boyé in the closing stages as the Royals looked to maintain the lead. And in the 90th minute, it was a frankly unbelievable save by Rafael which denied Hugill a headed goal from point-blank range as he arrived unchecked at the far post.
Through a late barrage of attacks from the visitors, the Royals stood strong and held out for a clean sheet and a well-merited three points.
Full-time: Reading 1-0 Queens Park Rangers
Reading: Rafael, Gunter, Morrison, Moore (c), Blackett, Pelé, Adam (Rinomhota 75), Ejaria (Boyé 85), Swift (Olise 84), Méïté, João.
Unused subs: Walker, Miazga, Obita, Loader.
Goal: Swift (52).
Queens Park Rangers: Lumley, Kane, Hall (c), Cameron (Smith 68), Pugh (Chair 61), Amos, Hugill, Eze, Manning, Osayi-Samuel (Wells 83), Leistner.
Unused subs: Wallace, Scowan, Ball, Barnes.
Attendance: 12,495 (1,351 away).
Referee: Mr J Linington