A difficult night, to say the least. 10-man Reading fell to a 4-1 defeat against Fulham on home turf on Tuesday evening.
After a fine opening strike by Tom Cairney, it was destined to be an uphill struggle after John Swift’s two bookings in the first 20 minutes reduced the Royals to 10 men. A brace by Aleksandar Mitrovic had the visitors in the box seat at the break.
The Royals battled valiantly but Cairney's second, midway through the second period, ended any faint hope of salvaging any reward from the game.
Yakou Méïté's stunning strike in the 89th minute gave the Royals supporters something to shout about in the final few minutes, but the points went back with the Whites to West London.
Following on from our draw at Swansea City on Saturday, there were three changes to the starting XI as Omar Richards, Josh Barrett and Méïté all started.
And Méïté, who had signed a contract extension earlier in the afternoon, could have opened the scoring within the opening exchanges. Barrett slipped in a delicate ball which the Ivorian blasted against the outstretched legs of Marcus Bettinelli.
But the visitors were looking lively in attack too. Bobby Decordova-Reid had fired narrowly over early on, and then Aleksandar Mitrovic’s drilled shot deflected marginally wide after the Cottagers had stolen possession upfield.
And in the 13th minute, the visitors led. Full-back Joe Bryan was released down the left and found Stefan Johansen in space in the middle – with the Royals defence rushing back into the area, he cut back for Cairney; he took one touch to control, and another to stroke into the top corner from the edge of the area. Rafael, at full stretch, was beaten.
With less than 20 minutes played, Reading were reduced to 10 men. Swift had been booked early on for a sliding tackle, and then was narrowly beaten to the ball in a 50-50 duel. The referee showed no mercy in the wet conditions and deemed the challenge worthy of a second yellow.
Fulham’s numerical advantage made their task easier and allowed them to hold possession well. They converted that into two quick goals before the half-hour.
First, Anthony Knockaert worked room for himself on the right flank and sent in a low, inswinging delivery which Mitrovic stabbed in from close range as he stole a march through the middle.
And then, minutes later, it was a delivery from the other side which opened the door as Bryan joined in the attack and teed up Mitrovic to prod in his second, Fulham’s third.
José Gomes’ side were determined not to go down with a whimper. George Pușcaș hassled and harried Tim Ream and won the ball high upfield; driving into the area, his shot appeared to strike the arm of Alfie Mawson but the referee was deaf to the appeals.
And then Ovie Ejaria was unable to cut the deficit before the break – he collected a loose ball and glided into a central area, before slicing wide on his left foot.
Half-time: Reading 0-3 Fulham
Lucas Boyé replaced Barrett at the break; fresh legs to do some hard running after the interval. The Whites were first to threaten after the restart, as Mitrovic burst down the left and found Knockaert in the centre; Rafael rushed off his line and pawed away bravely.
The second half was all about standing up, showing guts. Reading's ten men look determined to do just that; Andy Rinomhota picked off a loose Harry Arter pass and offloaded quickly to Pușcaș, who steamed downfield from his own half and into the Fulham box, before striking a matter of inches over the crossbar.
Rafael made another fine stop before the hour-mark - Knockaert's corner was only half dealt-with, and Mawson's piledriver was kept at bay by a outstretched hand in the bottom corner.
The Whites' lead was further extended at the midpoint of the second period as Cairney grabbed his second. Rafael had to rush out to an underhit back-pass, but his clearance was blocked; with bodies from both teams scrambling to win possession, the midfielder had the presence of mind to lob the ball into the empty net.
Lucas João and Michael Olise were introduced into the fray to try and add fresh attacking intent. Fulham's sub Aboubakar Kamara had a meek shout for a penalty as he tumbled in the area with Liam Moore close by. Nothing doing.
Méïté provided a moment of magic to give Reading supporters something to cheer. Olise swiped the ball wide right to the Ivorian; he cut inside onto his left boot and thrashed beyond Bettinelli's reach. A good moment in an otherwise forgettable evening for the Royals.
Full-time: Reading 1-4 Fulham
Reading: Rafael, Yiadom, Richards, Moore (c), Morrison, Rinomhota, Swift, Ejaria (Olise 79), Barrett (Boyé HT), Méïté, Pușcaș (João 70).
Unused subs: Walker, Miazga, McIntyre, Pelé.
Goal: Méïté (89)
Yellow: Swift, Moore.
Fulham: Bettinelli, Odoi, Bryan (Le Marchand 75), Mawson, Ream, Johansen, Arter, Cairney (c) (Kamara 72), Decordova-Reid, Knockaert (Onomah 69), Mitrovic.
Unused subs: Rodak, Cavaleiro, Reed, Sessegnon.
Goals: Cairney (13, 67), Mitrovic (26, 29).
Attendance: 13,809 (1,929 away).
Referee: Mr A Woolmer