After a week spent brooding over the second half collapse last week at Fulham, Reading showed the sort of character badly missing at Craven Cottage, by avoiding defeat after going behind for the first time this season in the league. After a tight first half, Jamie Murphy gave the Seagulls the lead but a first Reading goal by Matej Vydra meant the Royals avoided consecutive defeats.
The league leaders arrived in Royal Berkshire full of confidence and purpose whilst Reading started the game very tentatively. The away side had 70% of possession in the first 10 minutes but to Reading's credit they failed to register a shot on goal.
Steve Clarke had made just two changes to the team that capitulated so badly at Fulham. Andrew Taylor came in for Jordan Obita at left back while Garath McCleary replaced Lucas Piazon. McCleary was asked to take on the Stephen Quinn role in a 4-4-2/4-3-3 hybrid formation while Blackman, Vydra and Sá took turns covering Taylor on the left flank.
After a shaky start, Reading got a foothold in the game as their ever impressive front three showed their quality. Orlando Sa's excellent footwork, after drifting to the left, led to promising situations on a number of occasions and it was from one such move that saw the home side fouled on the edge of the box. Oliver Norwood hit the free kick well but David Stockdale was equal to it.
That move seemed to give confidence to Reading and they started to play some neat football but were perhaps guilty of trying to be too intricate at times. After half chances for both sides, the next real chance came just before the half hour when a lovely cross field ball from Norwood found Vydra on the right. The Czech international picked out Blackman, with a cross with the outside of his boot, but the Championship's leading scorer saw his header just go wide.
Just when it seemed Reading were starting to dominate, Brighton stepped up their game and began creating chances of their own. Tommer Hemed had a few attempts on goal and then Sam Baldock forced Ali Al-Habsi into what would be his only save of the game, though, Baldock's header was going wide. Reading had looked the more likely team to score in the first half without creating any serious chances on goal.
Brighton had shown in the first half why they have yet to be beaten in the league. Like all Chris Hughton teams they knew their jobs. They made sure they got men behind the ball, remained compact and were tidy, if a little unambitious, in possession.
Their right back Bruno is well known for being one of the Championship's best attacking full backs, but he had rarely got forward which may have been a sign of Brighton's determination to not be beat rather than win the game. It surely, however, did not escape Hughton's attention in the first half that Brighton often had two men attacking Taylor on the occasions when none of Reading's three strikers dropped deep.
With that in mind it was not too much of a surprise when the opening goal came down that flank. Bruno played a neat one two before playing in Hemed who with the slightest of touches nipped the ball into Baldock which took Paul McShane out of the game. Baldock played a first time ball back to Hemed who drove forward before crossing to Murphy to tap in at the back post.
From the Brighton perspective, it was a wonderful flowing move and showed that along with their grit they can also be ruthless going forward. Worryingly for Reading, the goal showed once again that they struggle defending counter attacks. Ipswich, Derby, Fulham and Brighton have now all scored similar goals.
If the midfield are not sat right in front of the defence then Hector and McShane have shown they will attack the ball which means they are out of position if they do not win the ball. It is admirable that Clarke is trying to get Reading playing attacking passing football but the team are going to have to learn how to defend in games and situations when they are not sat deep.
Murphy's goal had the potential to be decisive. Before this weekend Reading had only been behind on three occasions in the league but had lost each time. Such a stat hardly gave confidence and, with the Fulham game still fresh in everyone's mind, you could see the team lose confidence.
For ten minutes Brighton looked the more likely team to score and it was hard to see how Reading would get back into the game. Last week it was noticeable how no player took responsibility in the face of adversity. This Reading team is more talented than the one which won promotion in 2012 but it lacks leaders like Brian McDermott's team.
This weekend we saw less players letting their heads drop. Norwood and Danny Williams in particular were much improved and got better as the game went on. As Brighton dropped deeper and deeper the two central midfielders were able to get on the ball and dictate the match.
The last 25 minutes saw sustained Reading pressure of the sort normally seen in the dying moments of games. Brighton seemed to abandon any real ambition at getting a second goal though were nearly gifted one when Hector sloppily passed back to Ali Al-Habsi without looking. Luckily for Hector, Al-Habsi was quick enough to clear the ball off the line.
The Royals then wasted a golden opportunity to equalise after a rare Brighton attacking foray. Without seeing the replay it is hard for me to say who was the guiltiest party but I thought Blackman slightly delayed his pass and Sa's pass to Vydra could also have been better. Even so you would have expected Vydra to score but he seemed to be caught in two minds and Stockdale comfortably saved.
Hector was to redeem himself when he started the move that led to the equaliser. He drove forward and then split the Brighton midfield apart to find Blackman. Blackman hit a fierce shot from distance which Stockdale spilled and Vydra was quickest to react to smash home the equaliser.
Despite more sustained pressure Reading were unable to get the winning goal. Brighton fans could head home crowing about still being unbeaten and two points clear at the top. There isn't anything particularly spectacular about them and it could be argued that they play a much simpler game than Reading.
Some Royals fans have dismissed them but to be unbeaten in November shows they are better than just early pacesetters. It would be a huge shock if they were to drop out of the top six and you would have to be brave to bet against them being in contention for automatic promotion in May.
The past fortnight has shown Reading are still a team in development. Losing Quinn, Hal Robson-Kanu and Aaron Tshibola has forced Clarke to reshuffle his team and he is clearly finding it hard at the moment to accommodate Blackman, Sá and Vydra in the team without being vulnerable in defence.
Three games without a win has seen the Royals drop four points behind fifth place Derby. A minimum of four points from the next two games is vital if Reading are not to leave themselves too much work to do in the second half of the season and for this result not to be considered two points dropped.
Reading: Al-Habsi; Gunter, Hector, McShane, Taylor; McCleary (Hurtado - 73' ), Norwood, Williams, Blackman; Vydra, Sá (Piazon - 73' )
Brighton: Stockdale; Bruno (Calderon - 77' ), Hünemeier, Dunk, Rosenior; Crofts, Stephens, Kayal (Ince - 92' ); Baldock, Hemed (Zamora - 77' ), Murphy