Reading: Federici; Obita, Hector, Pearce, Gunter; Norwood (Kuhl), Taylor, Robson-Kanu (Pogrbenyak), Mackie (Blackman), Cox, Murray
Reading haven't won a league game since September 16th and after a two-week international break looked the stronger starters against a high-flying County side who have picked up where they left off last season.
Team wise Nigel Adkins went for a 4-4-2 formation, with Simon Cox and Jamie Mackie both rewarded for their fine second half performances at Brentford with starting spots and Jake Taylor lining up alongside Oliver Norwood in the heart of the Reading midfield.
It took only minutes for Cox to get in on the action, first seeing a penalty appeal turned down and then nodding over from six yards after a delightful ball in from Hal Robson-Kanu on the left.
Derby looked unsure of themselves defensively in the early going but were always a threat on the break, albeit with little end product to speak of in a quiet first 20.
In fact Adam Federici's first meaningful contribution was to pick the ball out of his net after Chris Martin nodded home unopposed from a Jamie Ward corner. To compound the defensive frailty, the header took a deflection off Robson-Kanu and through the legs of the man on the back post before nestling into the bottom corner.
Despite being 1-0 down Reading continued to look the better on the front foot and Glenn Murray came within inches of equalising after nodding a corner onto the Derby crossbar. Taylor then forced Grant into his first meaningful save as the Rams' keeper parried an effort right into the path of Robson-Kanu who was travelling too fast to do anything other than shin the ball straight back at a relieved Derby keeper.
Jordan Ibe had tormented Reading's defence up at Pride Park in Derby's 2-0 League Cup win over Adkins' side less than a month ago and once again he proved a thorn in our side this afternoon, as his jinking run left Chris Gunter for dead before a smart turn set him up to fire past a helpless Federici.
Into the second-half and Martin could have made it 3-0 early on had he not fired over from close range, while Federici was the hero with a fine double stop that kept Reading nominally in the contest.
With Derby slowly closing out the game Adkins made a bold triple substitution, taking off Norwood, Mackie and Robson-Kanu and replacing them with Aaron Kuhl, Nick Blackman and Pavel Pogrebnyak and Blackman twice came within a whisker of getting Reading back in the game. First he saw a 20-yard effort whistle narrowly over the bar before just minutes later forcing Grant to parry a stinging shot straight into the path of fellow sub Pogrebnyak who somehow managed to poke wide at the far post with the goal gaping.
Another goalmouth scramble soon followed but Martin was able to kill off the game 11 minutes from time when some neat interplay with Johnny Russell saw him dance through the Reading defence and slot past Federici to make it 3-0.
A fair number of boos greeted the final whistle from the Reading fans as the team slumped to 16th in the table, the lowest they've been in the Championship after 12 games since the Brendan Rodgers era some five years ago.
Adkins was fairly clear in his post-match discussions with Tim Dellor on BBC Radio Berkshire that he's run out of excuses and patience with a defence that just cannot stop leaking goals. Three times in the last four games Reading have conceded three goals and in seven of our 12 league games we've conceded at least two. With only an inexperienced core of Academy players to choose from the Reading manager admitted that an emergency loan was one option he was seriously considering and made it very clear something had to change after what was a truly woeful defensive performance.
It's hard to point the finger at exactly who's to blame but none of the back five can really say they've had an outstanding season. Each has been impressive at various points this season but there's just no cohesion and the mistakes they're making are a clear indication that as a unit they're just not on the same page.
The fluid situation in front of them can't be helping things either and while Jake Taylor was one of if not Reading's most solid performer on the day, he lacks the defensive steel of a Hope Akpan or a Jem Karacan/Danny Williams and the rotating cast of Kuhl/Taylor/Guthrie/Akpan that has been put alongside Norwood can't be helping them as a unit either. I can only presume Akpan was omitted due to his travelling with Nigeria this week and he'll almost certainly come back in for Tuesday's trip to Bournemouth.
Up front and Glenn Murray continues to look a decent signing though was largely starved of effective service. The likes of Mackie, Cox and Robson-Kanu all work hard but lack that potential to produce a moment of magic in the same way that Ibe did for Derby today and Adkins will be praying Garath McCleary makes a swift return to the fold as the year draws to a close.
This wasn't the most awful Reading performance you're likely to see but against such a well drilled, organised and classy Derby side you're always likely to get cut apart like this. 3-0 does flatter Steve McClaren's side slightly but they were very worthy winners on a day that they didn't really hit top form. If they continue to play like that they will certainly be in and around the top two come May and showed Reading just how far they've got to go if they want to be considered genuine promotion contenders.
For Reading there's little time to lick their wounds before that trip to Dean Court on Tuesday night and one can only hope that this is the low point of the season because if it gets much worse I imagine Nigel Adkins interactions with the new ownership might not be so friendly in the run-up to Christmas.
We'll have full player ratings up in the morning but for now let us know your thoughts below.