Reading 2 Norwich City 1
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City slumped to a first Championship defeat in five as Reading completed a league double over the lacklustre Canaries at the Madejski Stadium.
Bradley Johnson reduced the arrears with a 71st minute strike for his second goal in three days but the damage was done before the interval with Johnson conceding a penalty converted by Hal Robson-Kanu before the unmarked Simon Cox rifled underneath John Ruddy.
Norwich never remotely threatened to the scale the same heights as recent outings against Huddersfield and Millwall and there was a genuine lack of defensive resolve that characterised the awaydays at Wigan and Derby.
Neil Adams made two changes to the starting line that crushed Millwall 6-1 on Boxing Day. Carlos Cuellar failed to recover from the calf injury suffered in the closing stages which meant a first team return for Ryan Bennett at centre back.
Midfielder Alex Tettey was passed fit following the knee injury that saw him miss the Lions win, with Nathan Redmond dropping out to accommodate the Norwegian international.
Gary Hooper had the first shot in anger two minutes in when he brought down Steven Whittaker's raking pass but hammered a rising strike over on the angle of the six-yard box.
Reading tested the City rearguard twice in quick succession when Oliver Norwood's bending free kick was scrambled behind before Murray volleyed the corner over.
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Norwich appeared to relish the wide open spaces of the Madejski in the opening 15 minutes with Martin Olsson willing to offer ballast to the Canaries' attacking movements.
Johnson cut a ball into Cameron Jerome but the 12-goal striker swiped fresh air just a yard inside the Royals' penalty box.
Gary O'Neil then exchanged passes with Hooper following another bout of intricate work from the visitors but a heavy final touch invited Adam Federici to collect at his feet.
Ruddy kept City level in the 20th minute when he parried Murray's curling effort before an even better reaction block to deny Cox, although the Royals' frontman had been flagged offside.
Russell Martin's near post block that squirted Jordan Obita's cross behind but from Norwood's set piece Reading were awarded a penalty when Johnson was adjudged to have shoved Michael Hector at his near post.
The City man was booked for his protests in the aftermath before Robson-Kanu sent Ruddy the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Jerome stabbed wide from Whittaker's low cross at the opposite end with City looking to reply instantly but City conceded again in the 34th minute when Cox was left unmarked at the far post to control Murray's cross and slam underneath the body of Ruddy.
Norwich's disjointed offering was typified by Hooper's attempt to take a quick free kick which ended with the striker hitting the back of O'Neil's head stood five yards away to spring a Reading counter snuffed out by Bennett.
Johnson then ranged forward but the long range effort lacked the penetration of his recent prolific spell before Hooper was similarly wayward from the edge of the area.
Jerome then went down after brushing past Royals' last man Hector but referee Linington was unmoved, much to the disgust of Hooper who protested to the official as the game continued.
Federici was finally pressed into meaningful action two minutes from the interval when he punched Howson's lofted cross behind. Jerome's first time shot spiralled away off Pearce for a second corner in quick succession but Hector cleared his lines at the near post.
Adams made his intentions clear at the interval with Wes Hoolahan and Redmond replacing O'Neil and Tettey, which meant a switch inside for Johnson alongside Howson.
Jerome was inches from connecting with Howson's angled low strike in the 49th minute after good retrieval work from Hooper.
Adams made his final change just past the hour mark with Lewis Grabban replacing Hooper but City's bright start to the second period had receded with Reading now carrying the greater threat on the counter.
Johnson was forced to hack clear when Cox had escaped again at the far post to cut-back Obita's cross.
Ruddy then gathered Murray's speculative hit from McCleary's set-up play.
City earned a lifeline in controversial circumstances in the 71st minute when Johnson thumped home his third in two days from 20 yards but Reading were fuming after McCleary had gone off to receive treatment with the Royals' desperate to make a change during the break in play.
The Royals' berated the officials in the aftermath with boss Steve Clarke confirming afterwards the hosts were angry at being denied the chance to make the first of two changes with McCleary and Cox making way.
City poured forward in search of a second with Norwood denying Bennett at the near post in the midst of some last-ditch home defending.
Redmond then found Whittaker in space down the right but the cross arrowed towards Hector before the Scottish international's hopeful lob drifted out of play.
Hoolahan's cute back heel freed Grabban to drive into the Reading box in the first of five additional minutes but his cut-back rolled behind Bennett stationed 10 yards out.
Hoolahan then checked on his left but the strike from the edge of the area lacked the power to trouble Federici.
• Reading: Federici, Gunter, Obita, Pearce, Hector, Williams, Norwood, McCleary (Mackie 72), Robson-Kanu, Cox (Guthrie 72), Murray (Blackman 89). Subs (not used): Andersen, Cummings, Kelly, Cooper.
• Goals: Robson-Kanu (25), Cox (34)
• Norwich: Ruddy; Whittaker, Martin, Bennett, Olsson, Howson, O'Neil (Hoolahan 45), Tettey (Redmond 45), Johnson, Hooper, Jerome (Grabban 64). Subs (not used): Rudd, Turner, Lafferty, Miquel.
• Bookings: Johnson (foul on Hector, 25); Martin (ungentlemanly conduct, 63); Whittaker (foul on Robson-Kanu, 90)
• Goal: Johnson (71)
• Added on time: 2 minutes / 5 minutes
• Referee: James Linington (Newport)
• Attendance: 19,430 (2,311 Norwich fans)