Reading: Federici, Gunter, Hector, Pearce, Obita, Chalobah, Karacan (Williams), Norwood (Cooper), McCleary, Stacey (Fosu), Appiah
With the pressure totally off Reading, Steve Clarke made a number of changes to the side which lost on Tuesday night at Rotherham, which included Jack Stacey and Kwesi Appiah being handed starts.
Derby had everything to lose going into the final game of the season, just clinging onto the final playoff spot by two points. The Rams had been top (and five points clear) earlier in the season, but a run of 12 games with only two victories before Saturday's game saw them in this precarious situation.
Before the game there was a minute's applause for 33 year old BBC Radio Derby presenter Colin Bloomfield, who sadly lost his battle with skin cancer in April. With everyone inside the stadium contributing to this tribute, it made for a great atmosphere at the start of the game. However, Reading quickly silenced the home crowd when in the second minute Kwesi Appiah got on the end of a loose pass from Derby's player of the season Will Hughes. He broke forward, cut inside another Derby defender and slotted home cooly for his first goal in six appearances for the Royals.
Even though Reading tried to slow the play down, Derby did have a spell quite quickly afterwards. Adam Federici made great saves from Tom Ince, Darren Bent and Richard Keogh. He also saved Nathaniel Chalobah for getting on the score sheet at the wrong end of the ground, tipping the ball round the right hand post after pressure from a Derby corner. At the other end, Oliver Norwood had a free kick saved well by Derby keeper Lee Grant.
Derby, frustrated by the way Reading were playing and with their poor end product, made a tactical substitution just before half time, throwing Jesse Lingaard on in place of Stephen Warnock.
The Royals on the whole showed great defensive discipline, however, Derby were rightly awarded a penalty just before halftime after Jordan Obita brought down Johnny Russell in the box. Bent stood up to take the penalty, but his stuttered run wasn't enough to put off Federici, who made a brilliant low save to his right and the ball went out for a corner.
Steve McClaren put on Chris Martin after half time in the hope that Derby would find the equaliser, which would be enough for them to hold onto sixth place because their goal difference was so inferior to teams around them. However, it was Reading who had the first chance of the second half. Tariqe Fosu, another product of Reading's excellent academy had a strong shot saved by Grant. He had another chance soon after, but he shot just wide of the post after being set up by Chalobah.
It was the visitors who continued to press, and the Royals doubled their lead on the 72nd minute. An effective Norwood corner wasn't dealt with by Derby, and Chalobah set up Michael Hector who struck past Grant. At this point, a few Derby fans upped and left.
Reading didn't stop there and continued to pile forward and in the 85th minute, they were awarded with a penalty after Jem Karacan was brought down in the box by Grant. Garath McCleary stood up and took the penalty for Reading's last goal of the season and to end what was on the whole a very difficult season.
Full-Time: Derby 0-3 Reading
Walking away from the ground at the end of the game, I'd forgotten what it felt like to dominate a game and win comfortably. Apart from the Wembley game, I'm not sure I've seen us play that well as a team all season. It's a shame we didn't play like that in many of the other games this season, but at least we didn't get relegated and ended up finishing nine points above the drop.
I know Clarke has said he's going to have a big clear out during the summer, but from Saturday's game it was obvious that he does have some foundations he can work with. The likes of Fosu and Stacey as well as some of the other academy graduates may start breaking through into the first team more regularly next season. Fingers crossed those that have been offered contracts will take them up, and hopefully the 2015/16 season will be a somewhat more successful one.
Roll on 8th August....