A Joao Pedro brace was enough for Watford to consign Reading to their sixth defeat in eight games, with the favourites coming away with a deserved victory.
The Royals failed to make a decent start to the tie and that cost them in the early stages, with that and poor defending leading to the hosts’ penalty with Ovie Ejaria hauling down Pedro.
Ex-Liverpool man Ejaria could have no complaints on that one, with talisman Pedro picking himself up to put the Hornets ahead in the 15th minute.
And the home side could have doubled their lead just minutes later with Keinan Davis having a close-range shot saved well by Joe Lumley.
Unfortunately, the shot-stopper was forced to come off on the half-hour mark, providing the Berkshire outfit with an even bigger challenge in their quest to get something from the game.
They failed to create anything of note in the first 45 regardless, with Jeff Hendrick’s poor shot shortly before the interval being their best ‘opportunity’ of the half.
At the break, it felt as though we should have gone back to a back five with Ejaria and Baba Rahman arguably needing to be withdrawn. The latter was lucky not to concede a spot-kick just before the interval - but he survived along with Ejaria as both came out for the second half.
Four changes could have easily been made at that point considering Tom Holmes and others were struggling as well - but Paul Ince decided against rocking the boat and you just felt that was a major mistake.
The visitors would have been hoping a promising attack five minutes after the interval would have set the tone for the remainder of the game. In fairness to them, they did have a decent spell but the Hornets fired back with Pedro having an attempt well saved by Dean Bouzanis in the 63rd minute.
Following that and another missed opportunity for the Hornets to double their lead through Davis, it seemed clear that more changes were needed.
Of course you have to bear the strength of the opposition in mind - but the Royals looked stale, clueless and devoid of any real ideas. Again, the lack of invention in the final third was clear to see and that could end up being costly this season if Ince’s side fail to improve in that department.
The travelling fans did nearly have something to celebrate with just under a quarter of an hour left when Tom Ince fired Tyrese Fornah’s short free-kick just over Daniel Bachmann’s crossbar.
But just a few minutes after that, the visitors were lucky to keep the score to just 1-0 with Pedro’s shot going just wide of the left post - and Ince finally made more substitutions following that move as Yakou Meite and Andy Carroll came on for Ovie Ejaria and Lucas Joao.
Another good opportunity was to come for the home side after that though, with Ismaila Sarr’s lob being cleared off the line by Amadou Mbengue.
And the Senegal international finally had a bit of success shortly after with his cross being palmed away to Pedro, who fired the ball past Bouzanis in the 87th minute to seal a 2-0 victory and all three points for his side.
On paper, this may not be the worst result but Slaven Bilic’s side didn’t have to get out of first gear on the night and that was the most disappointing thing.
The slide continues - and you feel Dai Yongge will have a big decision to make during the World Cup break if his team taste defeat at Hull City at the weekend too.
If there had been quite a few promising signs from the Royals during the past few games, many would still be behind Ince, but some supporters are quickly losing patience and are worried about what could happen after the World Cup interval with the former England international still at the helm.
At the same time, you can’t afford to keep changing managers all the time. It feels like we’re up a [fill the blank] creek without a paddle at the moment. So frustrating.
Just one more thing. The players also need to take responsibility - because some were under par at Vicarage Road this evening and should be held accountable for that.
Standards have been sloppy in recent times - and the team needs to get back to winning ways sooner rather than later.