This was a very professional performance from Reading, in which players impressed all over the pitch. The 0-2 scoreline reflected both the away side's comfortable defence, and threatening attacking play on the break. Steve Clarke had discussed the open nature of the Robbins' playing style before the game, and Reading exploited this to full effect on the break. When not getting forward, the Royals gave a tight, disciplined display that saw them easily shut out a well below-par home side.
Steve Clarke made two changes to the side that lost 0-1 midweek to Derby County, bringing in Danny Williams and Garath McCleary - the Jamaican making his first start of the season. The former replaced the in-form Aaron Tshibola, perhaps unlucky to lose his place in the starting XI, with McCleary coming in for the suspended Orlando Sa. There was also a formation change, with the recently used front three giving way for a slightly more conservative 4-4-2. In Sa's absence, that meant a strike partnership of Nick Blackman and Matej Vydra.
Reading started the match at blistering pace, and the game was probably won within the opening quarter of an hour. Top scorer Nick Blackman received the ball from McCleary, before cutting in from the right and finding the far bottom corner via a deflection. A few minutes later, provider turned scorer as McCleary lashed home from distance. Reading had moved the ball about in the middle well in the buildup, making the strike an excellent goal all round.
There was little action down the other end of the pitch, with the Reading back four in imposing form. Paul McShane and Michael Hector dominated the Bristol City attack throughout the first half, giving the hosts barely a sniff in front of goal. The best opportunity for the Robbins in the opening 45 came through reported former Reading target Jonathan Kodija, who threatened to lash home from inside the box only to see his finish blocked by Michael Hector. Many of City's attacks came down the right, with Luke Freeman going up against Jordan Obita on several occasions. But Obita had the beating of his man almost every time, and could call on the help of the impressive Stephen Quinn ahead of him on the left wing.
Steve Clarke will have been proud of the first half display, which had established a comfortable lead through two excellent strikes. And, with a combination of a resolute rearguard and a lively front four, Reading looked the more likely to score than Bristol City.
The second half was much of the same, but with a more cautious edge. There was no blistering start to match that of the first half, but in truth Reading didn't need one. Any attempt at a half time rallying cry from Steve Cotterrill fell on deaf ears, as Reading were barely troubled by a side that looked very much like one that had recently graced League One. Jonathan Bond's seemingly inevitable clean sheet was only really in doubt when a Kieran Agard cross shortly before full time was diverted onto the post.
Going forwards, Messrs McCleary and Gunter in particular had fun down the right wing, linking up well with the ever mobile Nick Blackman. Danny Williams and Oliver Norwood looked comfortable in possession, and Stephen Quinn was a menace on the left. That said, Reading failed to open up the home side in the second half, and couldn't create many clear cut chances. Two of those chances fell to scorer Nick Blackman, who failed to hit the target on either occasion when other options were available.
This wasn't a stunning performance from Reading, but it was nonetheless impressive in various regards. The hosts barely threatened in any meaningful way, but Steve Clarke will still be proud of how the back four shut out a side that had been scoring consistently in recent games. Chelsea loanee Michael Hector (how strange does that phrase sound?) has come in for some stick in recent weeks since his transfer, but gave an assured display alongside Paul McShane, as did Chris Gunter and Jordan Obita.
The attacking play from Reading was a bit of a mixed bag. On the plus side, the forwards showed great movement and build-up play, stretching City and putting away two good goals. But, that said, I have a nagging feeling that Reading were one step away from turning a comfortable victory into a rout. What was lacking? A target man. On various occasions, particularly in the second half, Reading build up attacks well through the likes of McCleary, Gunter and Blackman. But, for me, the lack of a poacher in the box meant that Reading lacked a certain edge going forwards. Apart from the two goals, I'm not sure that Reading looked much like scoring - on another day, this would have been a frustrating 0-0.
But don't let miserable Bucks spoil what was a very good day for Reading. The Royals put the midweek defeat behind them, and go to Burnley next week with a spring in their step. I'm cautiously optimistic.
Reading: Bond, Gunter, Hector, McShane, Obita, McCleary (Hurtado), Williams, Norwood, Quinn (Tshibola), Blackman, Vydra (Piazon).