McCarthy; Gunter, Morrison, Pearce, Cummings; Hector, Obita; Taylor (Akpan 67), Cox (Edwards 80), Blackman; Pogrebnyak (Tanner 90)
Nigel Adkins made two changes to the side which drew at Wigan on Saturday, as Simon Cox started in place of Ryan Edwards, whilst Alex McCarthy came in between the posts for Adam Federici. And it was the Royals keeper who was by far the busier in the opening stages, as Newport seized control of possession and fashioned a few half-chances. Mark Byrne was the first to warm McCarthy's hands, as his curler from the top of the box was palmed away, then Aaron O'Connor had a half-chance from a corner which was straight at Reading's stopper.
The Royals slowly came back into things, attempting to demonstrate why they sit two leagues above the Welsh side. Nick Blackman cut in from the right-hand side and fired in a shot - it deflected to Chris Gunter on the overlap, whose centre couldn't be converted by Simon Cox. And for all Newport's neat passing and interchanges, it was a more stereotypical League Two goal that saw Reading take the lead. Michael Hector pumped a ball forward, Pavel Pogrebnyak was played onside by the Newport left-back, and he lobbed Lenny Pidgeley from 30 yards in the left channel.
The Royals could have doubled the lead from a corner, as Sean Morrison guided a Jordan Obita delivery back across goal which was deflected behind by a Newport defender - from the follow-up, Morro headed over. Newport seized control again and came closest to a first-half equaliser when Robbie Wilmott crossed from the left wing for Yan Klukowski whose header from 12 yards flew past McCarthy's near post.
Referee James Linington was fairly lenient on strong challenges throughout the match, and his biggest decision came just before half-time. Simon Cox nodded on a Royals clearance and Pog raced onto it, only to be pushed over by Kevin Feely on the top of the box. It seemed a certain red, but Linington only showed yellow. Obita floated the free-kick harmlessly over, and the Royals went into half-time with a slender lead. A goal out of nothing, with Newport looking far better in possession - a neutral would have struggled to pick the Championship side.
Clearly those were the words from Newport boss Justin Edinburgh at half-time, as they flew out of the traps and almost equalised after two minutes of the second 45. Adam Chapman scuffed a shot from a right-wing pull-back, but O'Connor got his head to it en route to goal - luckily for the Royals, it flew wide. At the other end, Pogrebnyak was doing a great job holding the ball up, and he released Blackman to bear down on goal. He fired one in from the top of the box which was always rising, but Pidgeley had to tip it over to make sure.
Simon Cox had a few neat touches during his second debut at the Madejski, and one such flick took him past Darren Jones, who pulled the new Royals man down just outside the box. Obita didn't shoot this time, but instead attempted a training ground routine which saw Cox just fail to connect with some neat passing inside the box. Then Pogrebnyak released Blackman again in almost a carbon copy of his first chance - this time the striker blazed over from twelve yards when he really should have hit the target.
Newport piled on the pressure again, as Reading went into lockdown inside the final fifteen minutes, but after a couple of optimistic hand-ball appeals, midfielder Byrne lashed a half-volley harmlessly over the bar. Akpan had a chance after the erratic Pidgeley cleared straight to him after another charge out of the box, but the sub found Row F of the empty North Stand from just inside the Newport half. In the end, as the title suggests, the class of the Royals had to show, and Blackman finally got his goal. Starting out wide, he took the ball past two County defenders before slotting with aplomb past Pidgeley. Breathing space for Reading.
Injury time came, and Newport finally got the goal their play deserved. But for all their neat triangles and crafty buildup, it came from a corner - an inswinger from Robbie Willmott nodded in by substitute Shaun Jeffers. A Royals sub was to have the last word though, as Craig Tanner, on his Royals debut, played a neat one-two with Ryan Edwards before sliding the ball left-footed into Pidgeley's bottom-right corner. A great moment for the 19 year old Academy product, and the last moment of the game, as there was only time for another kick-off before referee Linington ended proceedings.
I'm still in two minds about how to react to tonight, as it was a full-strength side fielded by Nigel Adkins that, for the majority of the match, looked second best. Newport were comfortable in possession, with Reading only really threatening on the counter when bypassing the County midfield. Hopefully there was an element of "second gear", because a more clinical side would have put the game to bed easily. Credit to Newport, who didn't read the script and fought for every ball, looking extremely classy at times.
To be fair to Reading though, we scored three goals, and had Blackman put his shooting boots on before the 85th minute it could have been more, as the striker spurned two great chances before finally netting to just about settle the game. Pogrebnyak worked hard up top and brought others into play, but the rest of the team looked a shade unnerved today by Newport's game. Hector misplaced many a pass, whilst Cox's highlights were brief and Taylor was almost anonymous.
It's a young side, and one that's learning with every game, but after the near joy of Wigan, this was a bump down to Earth. Ipswich had 120 minutes tonight, which will help the Royals' cause as we return to the Mad Stad on Saturday. Class came out in the end, but there's still work to do.