Reading fans were given a belated Christmas present with a win in a Boxing Day cracker. After a slow start to the game Yann Kermorgant gave The Royals the lead before the game really came to life in the second half.
First Nelson Oliveira equalised and then against the run of play Reading took the lead which this time they did not relinquish.
Jaap Stam had made two changes from the team that beat Blackburn last time out. Goalscorers George Evans and Dominic Samuel were perhaps harshly dropped in favour of Danny Williams and Kermorgant respectively. There was also a welcome return for John Swift on the bench.
Kermorgant was to justify his selection when he scored the opening goal of the game eight minutes before half time. Liam Kelly sent a perfect floated free kick into the six yard box and the Frenchman got ahead of John Ruddy to nod home.
That goal was just the home side’s second shot on goal in an even first half. Indeed, it was the out of form and out of confidence Norwich who looked the better side in the opening quarter of the game.
Reading struggled to get out of their half, but did restrict Norwich to only one decent chance. That came about when Liam Moore did an uncharacteristically poor header, which set up Steven Naismith whose firm drive from the edge of the box went narrowly wide.
After that shot the game became a bit of a battle on a pitch that has seen better days. Joey van den Berg got his usual yellow card for a nasty challenge that maybe looked worse than it was in the slow motion replays. Norwich themselves picked up two yellow cards which both times thwarted potential Reading counter attacks.
It was to be such a counter attack that would lead to the opening goal. A good crossfield ball from van den Berg found Roy Beerens who beat Ivo Pinto, but was brought down for the free kick that Kermorgant would score from.
Norwich almost drew level just before half time when a goal mouth scramble required Tyler Blackett to block a firm drive from Jonny Howson.
If the first half was at times rather mundane, the second half started much livier. Kermorgant twice went close, whilst Norwich got into some dangerous positions that just missed a decent final pass.
That final pass finally came just before the hour when the in-form Josh Murphy pulled the ball back to Nelson Oliveira who finished well. Stam will have been disappointed with the amount of space Oliveira was given.
Just moments after that set back Oliveira almost gave Norwich the lead. However, just as it looked like Norwich were taking control, the game was turned on its head.
From a Reading corner Howson twice handled on the line leading to a penalty and red card for the Norwich captain. Kermorgant stepped up only to chip his penalty onto the bar. However, when your luck is out, your luck is out; and for Norwich that meant Garath McCleary reacted quickest to head home the rebound.
Kermorgant will be relieved and it was a shame he didn’t get the second goal his performance deserved. His clever link up play was a joy to watch and one such piece of play set up Kelly who went close to getting his first Reading goal.
Losing Howson was always going to make life difficult for Norwich. Things got worse for Alex Neil when his own fans loudly booed his decision to take the impressive Oliveira off.
By the end of the game Norwich fans were calling for Neil to be sacked. Those chants got louder when two Reading subs combined to seal the game. The returning Swift linked up well with Callum Harriott who gave Ruddy no chance with a powerful shot.
Once again a Reading victory had a hint of luck about it. There was nothing between the times in the first half and the visitors looked the more likely to win before Howson was sent off.
However, you don’t sit third on Boxing Day just being a lucky side. The final goal that killed the game shows that this Reading team has some real quality in it when you consider that the players involved both started the game on the bench.
Reading fans will know after last season not to get ahead of themselves, but make no doubt about it, we’re not a bad team this year.
Reading: Al-Habsi, Gunter, McShane, Moore, Blackett, van den Berg (Evans 65), Williams, Kelly (Swift 77), McCleary, Kermorgant, Beerens (Harriott 87).
Norwich: Ruddy, Pinto, Bennett, Bassong, Tettey, Dorrans (Olsson 25), Howson, Naismith (Hoolahan 70), Murphy, Oliveira (Jerome 70).
Attendance: 21,180 (1,483 away fans)