Date: 28th December 2014 at 11:21pm
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Steve Clarke enjoyed his first victory as Reading boss, as he witnessed his side score two first-half goals to see of the challenge of Norwich.

Royals boss Steve Clarke made just one change to the team that played at Brighton just 48 hours before this game, as Garath McCleary returned from injury in place of Jake Taylor, who missed out on the squad altogether. There was more good news on the injury front too, with midfielder Danny Guthrie and Jamie Mackie returning to the matchday squad for the first time under Clarke – very good news!

Reading started superbly against Brighton, but nearly started very slowly, as Gary Hooper had a great opening for visitors after a perfect diagonal ball, but failed to hit the target. Admittedly, he had a tight angle and seemed off-balance, but had to hit the target at the very least – an early warning sign. It was a fast start to the game and Norwood`s inswinging free-kick caused some problems for the away side.

The game soon became very scrappy though, as both sides struggled to get their foot on the ball and create openings. Murray, in what is set to be his last Reading game, forced Ruddy into a great save from the edge of the area, with Cox`s rebound brining the best out in the former England keeper, albeit the offside flag was up anyway. Good signs that the Royals were slowly working their way into the game.

The pressure was building on the Norwich goal, which brought about a penalty kick for the hosts, as Johnson was adjudged to have impeded Hector from a corner. Robson-Kanu comfortably stepped up to send Ruddy the wrong way and put us one up, which was probably about fair on the run of play. Cameron Jerome had a great chance at the near post soon after, but was under enough pressure from Pearce.

Like Brighton two days ago, Reading found a second goal ten minutes before the half-time break and surprisingly, it was very easy on the eye! Neat passing and interchange in the midfield set Murray away down the wing and his looping cross fell to Simon Cox, who turned well and his shot had enough power on it pass Ruddy into the goal. A superb piece of play from the Royals, why can`t they do that more often?!

The second half started in a similar way to the first – high tempo and both teams pushing for a goal. Norwich made the first minor opening though, as Howson was allowed space to drive at the Royals backline and his cross-shot was nearly converted by Jerome, but couldn`t get clean contact on it at the back post. An early goal for Adams` side could have made it nervy second half, but we held firm to keep our advantage.

Chris Gunter was probably our best attacking outlet in the early exchanges of the half, linking up well with McCleary to verge into the area, but his pull backs couldn`t find a Royals player on both occasions. We were becoming a considerable threat on the break and looked most likely to score – this time it was Obita who broke forward from left-back, but Murray couldn`t profit from his enticing, low cross.

Murray then had a half a sight of goal after we won another battle in midfield, but his effort was poor and was easy for Ruddy to gather. It was all looking comfortable for the Royals, until a hugely contentious moment gave Norwich a lifeline. Garath McCleary was injured and off the pitch, with Guthrie and Mackie ready to come on – instead, Norwich took the throw and the referee shockingly allowed them to play on.

From this, midfielder Bradley Johnson unleashed a rocket from twenty yards to give the visitors undeserved hope – Reading fans, players and manager, all amazed and furious with the official and rightly so! Steve Clarke was looking very unimpressed with the referee and with twenty minutes to play, he would have been worried he may watch his side let another two-goal lead slip away.

Jamie Mackie injected great energy and drive on the right wing and nearly created the opening for a third goal to seal the three points, but Murray`s goalbound effort was blocked away. Reading were battling superbly, making interceptions and tackles in midfield, not even allowing Norwich in our half – I can`t remember seeing us have this sort of fight and spirit in a long time.

Substitute Grabban`s pull back nearly found Hooper at the back post, but luckily for the Royals backline, the ball was behind him. The last effort of the game came from Wes Hoolahan, as we allowed him space on the edge of the area, but hit shot was tame and easily gathered by Federici. The final whistle was met with a passionate fist pump from the manager and similar emotions from the fans.

A fully deserved three points for Clarke`s men, who battled superbly in the final twenty minutes, with the referee`s shambolic error nearly costing us dearly. Hopefully this win will rejuvenate the team and give them the confidence in the future to see games out with the same character. We now look forward to a break from the league campaign and a game at Huddersfield next week in the FA Cup.

Reading – 4-2-3-1: Federici; Gunter, Pearce, Hector, Obita; Norwood, Williams; McCleary, Cox, Robson-Kanu; Murray.
Subs: Andersen, Cooper, Kelly, Cummings, Guthrie, Mackie, Blackman.

Norwich – 4-4-2: Ruddy; Whittaker, Bennett, Martin, Olsson; O`Neil, Tettey, Howson, Johnson; Hooper, Jerome.
Subs: Rudd, Miguel, Turner, Hoolahan, Redmond, Grabban, Lafferty.