Under the lights at the Madejski Stadium, hosts Reading proved their quality with a dominant victory over AFC Bournemouth in a crucial fixture at the top end of the Championship table.
All three of the Royals' goals came in the first-half: first Josh Laurent smashed in a loose ball from a corner, then Tom McIntyre scored in similar fashion seven minutes later, before Lucas Joao rounded off the show just before half-time with a nonchalant move and finish to send Bournemouth wimping in at the break. Junior Stanislas curled home a direct free-kick in the 85th minute, but it was merely a consolation.
The result sees Reading climb up to 4th, level on points with 2nd-placed Swansea City, while Bournemouth remain 6th, very much still in this promotion race but needing to put an end to their poor form as soon as possible.
Story of the game
It was, in fact, a confident start from Bournemouth. After some good build-up play in midfield, Jefferson Lerma picked out Arnaut Danjuma around 25 yards out, centre of goal, and the Dutchman's resultant shot stung the gloves of Rafael Cabral.
The first notable chance came on the 20-minute mark. A poor back-pass from Lewis Cook let Joao in behind the Bournemouth defence. He rounded Begovic but the angle was too tight, so the striker cut it back for John Swift whose low finish just evaded the far post. A gilt-edged opportunity missed by the hosts, and a real let-off for the visitors.
It wouldn't take long, though, for Reading to find their lead. Olise's lofted corner met McIntyre at the back post. With his first header blocked, he smashed the ball back into the scramble, and it eventually dropped kindly for Laurent to slam home from five yards.
They were gifted a superb chance to extend their advantage when Diego Rico felled Andy Rinomhota on the edge of the area. Olise fired his free-kick low to Begovic's right side; it wasn't far from him, but the goalkeeper spilled the shot right to the feet of McIntyre who prodded the ball into the net.
Reading were playing with a swagger, relishing in the below-par performance of their visitors. Olise and Ovie Ejaria exchanged a series of one-twos in the final third, eventually creating space for the former to strike, but it was just wide of the near post.
And their superiority paid yet more dividends about five minutes before half-time. Ejaria picked up his head in midfield and thread the ball through to Joao between the Bournemouth centre-halves. The striker still had it all to do, but a well-executed ball roll took Steve Cook out of the game and gave Joao the chance to coolly slot home past a helpless Begovic.
Visiting manager Jason Tindall was forced to shuffle his pack during the break after a humiliating first-half display. He made a trio of changes, with David Brooks, Jack Wilshere and Adam Smith coming on for Danjuma, Lerma and Diego Rico respectively. Could they claw the Cherries back into this contest?
The intent was there. Josh King cut inside from the left and laid the ball off for Cook. The midfielder met it 20 yards from goal and struck with venom, but failed to trouble the Reading goalkeeper. The Royals then burst straight up the pitch and came close to a fourth when Swift sent his effort just over the bar; Bournemouth were far from on song tonight.
King was their main source of inspiration. Just before the hour mark, he left Omar Richards for dead with a darting run down the right flank and worked his way into the box to cross for Dominic Solanke lurking in the middle, but the ball was yanked away by Michael Morrison.
Bournemouth came agonisingly close to pegging a goal back from a corner in the 62nd minute. It was swung in by Brooks and, after a series of failed clearances from the Reading defence, dropped to the feet of Chris Mepham. The centre-back swung a foot at it but, remarkably, Tom Holmes blocked the shot. King had a second bite at the cherry, yet again Holmes stood impervious.
They were desperate to get back into this game, and soon. First, Smith's nicely-weighted through-ball was missed altogether by Solanke. In the next phase of play, Brooks weaved his way down the right, leaving Richards for dead, before fizzing a ball towards Philip Billing in the box. The Dane attempted to guide the ball across goal, but Cabral reacted excellently to make the save.
But their urgency in attack contributed to leakages in defence. Joao skipped past Mepham and created the angle for the shot, but his left-footed curler was caught easily by Begovic, and Laurent fashioned a similar opportunity moments later.
The Cherries prevented their disadvantage from growing any larger, though, and finally got their goal when substitute Junior Stanislas arrowed home a direct free-kick in the 85th minute. Reading had opportunities to regain their three-goal advantage through Tomas Esteves and Yakou Meite, but the scores remained as they were.
It was too little, too late for Bournemouth, and this is another damaging defeat which makes the task of promotion all the harder for them while simultaneously giving a huge boost to the in-form Reading, who proved once again that they are serious contenders towards the top of the table.
Takeaways from the match
Resolute, emphatic Reading
This was a superb showing from Veljko Paunovic's men. Reading were well wary of the quality of their opponents and did brilliantly to stifle their attacks, whilst exposing the deficiencies in Bournemouth's defence when they had the ball. The won the midfield battle against players with years of top-flight experience, and have staked the claim that they themselves are worthy of earning that experience at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Bournemouth's slump conintues
It's now three consecutive league defeats for the Cherres, and just one victory in six Championship assignments. They were clearly second best here and are now five points off 2nd place who also have a game in hand — they'll need to pick their form up pronto to avoid losing ground in the promotion race.
Reading: Cabral; Holmes (Yiadom 88'), Morrison, McIntrye, Richards; Rinomhota, Laurent; Olise (Esteves 88'), Swift (Semedo 71'), Ejaria (Aluko 77'); Joao (Meite 88').
Subs not used: Onen, Southwood, Gibson, Tetek.
AFC Bournemouth: Begovic; Stacey, Mepham, Cook, Rico (Smith 46'); Lerma (Wilshere 46'), Cook, Billing (Stanislas 81'); King, Solanke, Danjuma (Brooks 76').
Subs not used: Dennis, Carter-Vickers, Riquelme, Simpson, Surridge.
Following victory here, Reading travel to face Stoke City in the Championship next weekend.
Meanwhile, Bournemouth are back in action on Tuesday night as they face Sheffield Wednesday at the Vitality Stadium.