If you needed an explanation as to why Brighton and Newcastle have romped to two of the highest Championship points totals at this stage of the season in the past 15 years, the 90-odd minutes at the Amex Stadium this evening told you all you needed to know. Here's our initial thoughts from Brighton's 3-0 win over Reading, with a detailed report to follow later this weekend.
Jaap Stam made three changes from the team beaten at Huddersfield, with skipper Paul McShane, George Evans and Yann Kermorgant coming in for Jordan Obita, Liam Kelly and Lewis Grabban.
Brighton had the better of the early exchanges, with Anthony Knockaert making a mazy run down the right while Shane Duffy went close with a header but Reading soon settled into a nice rhythm, earning, a now expected, lion's share of the possession.
Around the half-hour mark we finally made inroads into the Brighton half, with Danny Williams and Roy Beerens both forcing saves from David Stockdale. Yet Brighton's counter-attacking prowess was evident from the off and after hitting the post just minutes earlier, Sam Baldock responded by slamming Albion into the lead from short range after 35 minutes. Bruno's lofted pass caused havoc in the Reading backline, with Baldock doing well to control and beat Ali Al-Habsi from inside the six-yard box.
Into the second period and again Reading showed they could mix it with the soon to be league leaders, with Williams seeing his header agonisingly cleared off the line in acrobatic style by Duffy. Yet once again, Reading's attack soon turned into a Brighton goal. The subsequent corner was cleared downfield and Dale Stephens put a lovely ball into the path of Jamie Murphy, who chipped over Al-Habsi to make it 2-0.
John Swift came on for Jordon Mutch but Brighton continued to pile up the chances, with Knockaert firing into the side netting and Murray finding the net only to be ruled (rightly) offside.
Liam Kelly and Lewis Grabban were also thrown on by Stam, but Reading rarely looked like getting themselves a foothold in the game, with Chris Hughton's side completing a deserved 3-0 win 10 minutes from time through the superb Knockaert. It's a win that sends them top and they very much deserve a place in the Premier League next season.
For Reading the lone bright side is we're still seven points clear of seventh spot with a quarter of the season remaining. We've also got a week off to prepare for Wolves at the Madejski and a win there should help settle any lingering play-off fears. There's no shame in losing games away to two of the top three, and while ending up without a point is a shame, it's hardly a critical blow for our promotion chances. The top two maybe gone but we've still got a fantastic chance of the top six and a Wembley place at the end of May.
As mentioned, keep an eye on the site later this weekend for more opinion and reaction.
Reading: Al-Habsi, Blackett, Moore, McShane, Gunter, Evans (Kelly), Williams, Mutch (Swift), Beerens, McCleary (Grabban), Kermorgant