Murphy and Byram on target in 2-0 win at the Madejski Stadium...
READING 0, UNITED 2 (Murphy 63, Byram 90).
Reading: Federici, Kelly, Pearce, Williams, Hector, Norwood (Mackie 63), Chalobah, McCleary, Obita, Blackman (Yakubu 70), Pogrebnyak (Cox 70). Subs. Andersen, Cooper, Akpan, Robson-Kanu.
United: Silvestri, Wootton, Bamba, Bellusci, C Taylor, Byram, Murphy, Cook, Bianchi (Sloth 29), Mowatt, Morison. Subs. S Taylor, Del Fabro, Doukara, Antenucci, Cani, Sharp.
Referee: G Scott
Booked: Wootton, Byram (United)
Att: 18,124 (United 2,602)
Head coach Neil Redfearn made three changes for the midweek trip to Reading, two of which were enforced, as Giuseppe Bellusci, Tommaso Bianchi and Alex Mowatt all came in for Liam Cooper and Rodolph Austin, who were both ruled out with illness, and Billy Sharp. Sol Bamba captained the side in Cooper's absence.
The game began at a high tempo but without either team seeing any clear-cut chances inside the opening 10 minutes. Lewis Cook looked to force an opening down United’s right, while Garath McCleary was unable to carve a way through at the opposite end as possession frequently changed hands.
That was until 18 minutes in when Redfearn’s men created the first real sight of goal as Cook cut apart the Reading defence to thread Steve Morison into the area. The striker looked to square it for the unmarked Mowatt arriving inside the six-yard box, but the hosts manage to scramble it behind before Bianchi fired into Adam Federici’s arms from the resulting corner.
But that effort on goal proved to be Bianchi’s final contribution as the midfielder limped off to be replaced by Casper Sloth on 29 minutes after a strong collision with Danny Williams inside the United half. It was a cagey start to proceedings and it was not until the 31st minute when Reading truly tested the United defence, Nick Blackman surging into the area down the left and forcing Bellusci into a fine covering block.
Alex Pearce then headed the resulting corner over Marco Silvestri’s after being found at the back post, before Blackman lashed wide from range as the hosts looked to step into gear. But the brief flurry of opportunities appeared to act as a warning sign for United as they responded by creating the game’s best chance to open the scoring following a swift break up-field.
Mowatt and Cook were again involved, finding joy in the free space down Reading’s left hand-side, before the ball found its way to Morison inside the area. The striker created the space for himself by shimmying away from his marker, but he could only find the base of the post with Federici sprawling across his line.
Williams twice tried his luck from distance, firing well over before shooting into Silvestri’s arms on the stroke of half-time, as referee Graham Scott signalled for the break following a relatively evenly-matched opening half but one in which United enjoyed the clearer sights of goal.
Both teams re-emerged unchanged and it was Reading who began the second half on the front foot, with Michael Hector seeing his near-post flick from Jonathan Obita’s corner blocked on the line.
It had been an otherwise uneventful start to the second period until the 63 minutes in as Luke Murphy sparked pandemonium among the 2,602 travelling fans with his third goal of the campaign. The midfielder collected the ball around 25 yards out and had his sights set on only one thing, firing into Federici’s bottom right corner despite a hand from the Reading goalkeeper.
United looked to be good value for the lead and Morison and then Byram took turns to shoot over as they looked to double the advantage. But Silvestri was soon called into action at the opposite end for the first real time of the evening as he thwarted the onrushing Williams with his feet after a burst into the area.
Reading piled forward in the closing stages, with McCleary firing a dangerous ball across the face of goal, but it was to be United who added the second to wrap things up in the final minute. A counter-attack freed up Morison inside the area and his delicate back-post cross was met by Byram for the simplest of headers to seal the three points.