West Bromwich Albion extended their lead at the top of the Sky Bet Championship on Wednesday evening at Reading’s expense; the visitors came from behind to leave with a 2-1 victory.
George Pușcaș had put Reading ahead from the penalty spot in the first half after Kyle Bartley had handled in the area, but Matheus Pereira hammered in the equaliser before half-time.
Bartley, the offender for the spot-kick, earned what proved to be the game-winner early in the second period as Reading’s labours went without reward.
The big fillip on the teamsheet was the inclusion of Andy Yiadom, returning to the squad to start for his first senior appearance in over two months after injury. Midfielder Felipe Araruna was also named for his first start, and George Pușcaș was recalled as the third change to the XI.
Meanwhile there were former Royals amongst the squad for the table-toppers, as Hal Robson-Kanu led the line and goalkeeper Jonathan Bond was available as a sub.
Both sets of supporters were keen to battle the cold by creating a lively atmosphere. And both sides registered their first shots within the first few moments as Yakou Méïté and Filip Krovinovic fired over. Soon after, Robson-Kanu met a deep cross from Conor Townsend but looped his header onto the roof of the net.
Reading survived an early scare when a quick exchange in the centre circle suddenly allowed Krovinovic to gallop at goal; Rafael’s save was unorthodox but effective, as he parried it into the ground, from where it looped onto the bar and away to safety.
The end-to-end action continued as Bartley hacked over his own bar when Jordan Obita flashed a ball through the six-yard box.
But before the ten-minute mark, Bartley was the offender as the Baggies gave away a penalty –inexplicably he swatted an arm at John Swift’s inswinging corner, causing the ref to pull out a yellow card and point to the spot. All of West Brom’s delaying tactics were in vain as Pușcaș kept his cool to send Sam Johnstone the wrong way from the penalty spot and give Reading the advantage.
On the hunt for a quick reply, the visitors had an opportunity from a free-kick just outside the area, as Yiadom was carded for a sliding challenge on Krovinovic. Up stepped Matheus Pereira – and for a moment, the Baggies fans were celebrating a goal. But it was the perspective which had flummoxed them from their vantage point in the South Stand; the ball had sailed wide and hit the stanchion behind the goal.
But it was Pereira who got the Baggies level. With a shimmy of the hips, Townsend worked room to cut back a cross from the left byline, and the midfielder hooked a snapshot at goal. Rafael reacted well to palm away the initial effort, but Pereira was quick to the loose ball and let rip from the edge of the six-yard box. All square.
With the equaliser, the Baggies grew in confidence and could have fashioned some further opportunities, but for a handful of timely interceptions by Pelé. And when a fizzed cross from the left was strafed towards some moving targets in the area, skipper Liam Moore got a critical nick on the ball.
West Brom captain Jake Livermore was next to test the hands of Rafael; a quick combination, followed by a fortuitous ricochet allowed the Baggies skipper to get the ball out of his feet and force a stop, low to the goalkeeper’s right.
In the time added on in the first half, Reading had two chances to go ahead; first as Swift’s piledriver from outside the area was deflected over, and then as Obita’s corner pinballed around the box and eventually a left-footer from Pușcaș was deflected away.
Half-time: Reading 1-1 West Bromwich Albion
The Baggies went close to taking the lead soon after the break when a half-cleared corner was gathered back in, circulated to Callum Robinson, and struck across goal and against the bar.
However West Brom soon had their noses in front; Robson-Kanu kept the ball alive in the area and teed up Krovinovic, who found Bartley rising at the back post - a looping header squeezed in at the back post.
The Royals weren't going to go down to the table-toppers without a fight. And a bit of brilliance by Ovie Ejaria in a tight space got the crowd up - he wriggled free in his own half and set an attack away down the left. He got into the box and was almost found by a pass from Pelé - who had embarked on a mazy run of his own - but a defending leg mopped up.
Then sub Andy Rinomhota was almost in on goal - Pușcaș and Méïté both showed strength and nous down the right before Swift found his midfield teammate peeling off the shoulder of the centre-halves. His touch to round the goalkeeper sent him a tad wide and defenders were back en masse by the time he was able to get his cross in.
The Royals were looking the likelier to get the next. Moore glanced a header just over from a corner, and then Méïté was a whisker away with a thunderous drive after Rinomhota charged through the middle and found the Ivorian on the right.
Reading had the ball in the net but the linesman quickly cut short the celebrations with a raised flag. Charlie Adam, just on as a sub, tempted the goalkeeper with a cross but Méïté met it first and headed in. A tight decision went against the Royals.
In the final ten minutes, Sam Baldock came on as the third and final change for Reading; another attacker to try and grab a leveller.
It was his strike-partner Pușcaș that fired wide when Méïté crossed in from the right; a delicate ball into the channel had allowed the cross to come in but the striker couldn't trouble Johnstone.
It was a frustrating finale for Reading as a series of decisions went against them and allowed the Baggies to eat up the clock. Reading piled forward to try and scrap that equaliser in the four added minutes, but Adam popped a half-volley over the bar with the game's last action.
A hearty effort against the promotion-chasers, but no reward to show for it.
Full-time: Reading 1-2 West Bromwich Albion
Reading: Rafael, Yiadom, Morrison, Moore (c), Obita, Pelé (Adam 76), Araruna (Rinomhota 55), Swift (Baldock 82), Ejaria, Méïté, Pușcaș.
Unused subs: Walker, Olise, Blackett, Richards.
Goal: Pușcaș (11).
Yellow: Yiadom, Obita.
West Bromwich Albion: Johnstone, O'Shea, Ajayi, Bartley, Townsend, Sawyers, Livermore (c), Robinson (Grosicki 72), Krovinovic (Phillips 69), Pereira, Robson-Kanu (Austin 86).
Unused subs: Bond, Furlong, Harper, Hegazi.
Goals: Pereira (26), Bartley (49).
Yellow: Bartley, Sawyers.
Attendance: 13,942 (1,403 away).
Referee: Mr M Donohue