Reading inflicted Albion's heaviest defeat of the season with a comfortable 3-0 victory at the Madejski Stadium on a hugely disappointing afternoon for the Brewers.
Two goals in seven first half minutes from Dominic Samuel and Danny Williams had the Royals firmly in control of the game, both goals a result of poor Albion defending as both players tapped in at the far post all too easily. Albion had looked energetic and purposeful in the opening stages but once they went behind it was always an uphill task against Jaap Stam's rejuvenated side who maded it four wins in a row as they consolidated a play-off spot in the Championship table.
The second half was something of a non event except for an unfortunate own goal from John Brayford who was in the wrong place as Jon McLaughlin saved a shot from substitute Yakou Meite, the ball parried against Brayford and rolling into the empty net. It summed up the frustrations of all those of an Albion persuasion who had endured a day to forget in Berkshire.
Three games without a goal is concerning for Albion and four on the road without finding the net is just as worrying but the goals against column is going up at the same time away from the Pirelli and could cost the Brewers dear as the season continues.
Without the injured Jamie Ward (wrist) and Kyle McFadzean (suspension) manager Nigel Clough was forced into at least two changes for Albion's first visit to the Madejski Stadium since 2009 when Albion were a newly promoted club into the Football League taking on a side just relegated from the Premier League in the League Cup. John Mousinho returned to the defence picking up the captain's armband along the way. Stuart Beavon also returned to the side at a club where his father made almost 400 League appearances.
A cagey start by both sides made for little in the wqy of early goalmouth action. Albion fashioned what was probably the first real chance of the game on five minutes as patient build up play involving both Chris O'Grady and Beavon made room for Lloyd Dyer to swing in a cross that Jackson Irvine headed well over the bar. Reading reacted swifty with a good chance of their own. The dangerous Dominic Samuel found room on the edge of the box to turn and take a shot that rippled the side netting as the young striker tried to beat McLaughlin at his near post.
Albion began to put some concerted pressure on the Reading goal around the quarter of an hour mark. After a Matt Palmer free kick had been cleared for a corner by Liam Moore, the young midfielder whipped in an excellent corner that was headed goalwards by O'Grady only for Jordan Obita, stationed on the post, to head clear. The Brewers retained possession and with Beavon hunting down the defence a hurried clearance enable Reading to eventually clear their lines.
Reading began to dominate possession and they used it to great effect to come up with the opening goal on 22 minutes. Roy Beerens was allowed to advance deep into the Burton penalty area before sliding the ball across the six yard box. SAMUEL was running in at the far post and slid in to guide the ball home from close range. A very soft goal to concede after a bright start to the game.
Trying to get themselves back on terms against a notoriously miserly defence Albion began to come forward again and Ali Al Habsi had to pluck a looping header out of the air as it dropped under his cross bar from O'Grady's flick but it was a routine catch for a keeper of his stature.
It was 2-0 for the Royals on 29 minutes and again they didnt have to work that hard for their goal. This time Obita got in down the left and from wider out than Beerens was a low left foot cross by passed three Burton defenders allowing Danny WILLIAMS to tap home a simple goal.
Albion's disappointing afternon was summed up just after the half hour when O'Grady missed an outstanding chance to break his own personal duck and get the Brewers back into the game at the same time. Beavon's ball over the top sent Dyer scampering away and when the Reading defence made something of a hash of clearing their lines the ball fell kindly for the on loan Brighton man who tried to stab the loose ball home but slightly off balance swinging and missing the ball completely to allow Al Habsi to drop oin the ball.
Reading had what they thought were strong shouts for a penalty on 38 minutes as Samuel and Mousinho raced into the penalty area. It looked to be shoulder to shoulder between the two as the Reading man went to ground somewhat easily and referee Keith Stroud concurred waving away appeals before speaking strongly to Reading boss Jaap Stam who had seemingly made his thoughts known rather too convincingly to the officials.
Samuel went to ground again on 44 minutes this time outside the box chasing a long ball over the top. A coming together with Ben Turner was enough to send the Reading man down on this occasion and referee Stroud deemed that this time it was a foul and produced a yellow card for the Albion man - his ninth of the campaign so far.
It summed up what had been a poor half for the Brewers who had undoutbedly drooped on their return after the international break.
Half time: Reading 2-0 Burton Albion
Despite a bright opening to the second period for Albion it was still Reading looking the more threatening in front of goal. Five minutes into the half they were in again down the Burton right. Obita again made good ground down the flank crossing into the middle and picking out the on rushing Gareth McCleary who, perhaps surprised that the ball had got past Mousinho, scooped his effort over. The same combination was in again two minutes later with Obita halted inside the box and pulling a neat ball back for his team mate who again failed to find the target and beat the turf in frustration at squandering the chance to put the game to bed once and for all.
In between those efforts Albion had twice gone close through Irvine. The energetic Aussie carved out a shooting opportunity for himself drilling a low effort straight at Al Habsi before throwing himself at a teasing cross from Beavon, failing by inches to get on the end of it and find the back of the net.
Palmer went close with a raking drive from 25 yards as the home side were slow to clear on the edge of their own box but chances were becoming few and far between.
The game became somewhat scrappy around the hour mark and it was perhaps epitomised by both of Reading's front players picking up yellow cards. Both Samuel and McCleary went in referee Stroud's book for niggly little fouls leaving them on a knife edge for the remainder of the game. Samuel was replaced by Yakou Meite on 67 minutes anyway as Reading began to ring the changes.
Albion did likewise and O'Grady, who had fired over the bar twice in the second period, was replaced by Will Miller. With just over twenty minutes left a second change saw Tom Naylor provide fresh legs in place of Williamson.
With Reading almost in cruise control Albion almost made them pay. An angled ball into the box picked out Miller and using an excellent first touch set himself for a volley that was straight at Al Habsi, the big Oman keeper beating the ball away.
At the other end Albion were suffering even more bad luck. Substitute Meite got away from Turner in the corner and raced into the area. His low shot was parried away by McLaughlin but unfortunately only against John Brayford who could only watch as the ball rebounded into the net.
Turner was to play no further part as he was substituted and replaced by Tom Flanagan for what remained of the game.
What did remain of the game was played almost at training pace from the perspective of the home side Quick breakaways threatened to increase the home sides advantage but no clear cut chances came their way as Albion learned their defensive lessons. With the game over as a contest Albion continued to look for what would have been a mere consolation but the best they could muster was a Miller effort that flew across the face of goal after some instinctive link up play with Beavon inside the Reading box.
A finish that summed up a hugely disappointing game for Clough's men. Reading are a good side but Albion's generous defending made their job easier on the day.