Rafael Benitez’ team selection shocked many supporters after the 56-year-old chose to drop captain Jamaal Lascelles for Ciaran Clark and hand over captaincy to Paul Dummett. There was also a surprise inclusion for Yoan Gouffran.
But solid all-round performances from Isaac Hayden, Matt Ritchie and two goals from Dwight Gayle gave Newcastle what looked like a convincing win. However, convincing was far from it as the Magpies continued to look nervy in crucial parts in the game.
But of course, the most important thing for the Geordies is that they have their first win under their belts, which they hope can be used to now kick-start their promotion push.
Early lead – chalked off
After the defeat against Huddersfield Town on Saturday, you felt an early goal was needed to calm the nerves at St James’ Park to maximize the full support of the Geordie faithful. And that perfect start looked to have come when Gayle buddle the ball over the line on three minutes.
However, the striker was penalised for handling the ball past Ali Al Habsi.
First goal for Hayden gives Toon the lead
Credit to the Magpies though as they quickly dusted themselves off as they pursued their bid of taking the lead.
On 20 minutes, Ritchie stepped-up to fire his free-kick into the wall, and with the ball flying around in the penalty box, Hayden was their to be pick up the ball on the turn and bury in past Al Habsi.
Nervy last 10 minutes – Reading goal
As the home side almost doubled their lead from Gouffran’s acrobatic attempt, the Royals begun to plant United on the back-foot. Roy Beerens rattled the bar from 20-yards out before Danny Williams tested Matz Sels in the space of five minutes.
The home fans were urging their side to hold their lead till half-time as Reading piled on the pressure. But after conceding twice in two games on the stroke of half-time, the evitable happened as the out-stretched debutant Clark fouled John Swift in the penalty area.
Gareth McCleary then dispatched his penalty to send Sels the wrong way to level the scores at half-time.
Magpies regain an unconvincing lead
The start Benitez’ men made to the second-half was always going to be crucial. And thanks to Chris Gunter, the hosts were handed the opportunity to re-take the lead on 48 minutes with the defender pulling down Gouffran for a penalty.
Ritchie slotted his spot-kick into the bottom left-hand corner who left Al Habsi no chance despite diving the right way.
Another nervy period – Dummett targeted
Stam’s men had to find a way back into the game again. The Royals often focused on putting the ball in the behind which did cause the Magpies problems. Dummett looked on-edge as the pacey McCleary had the beaten of the left-back on many occasions, but the final ball was lacking.
United’s passing was sometimes wayward as the back-four were keen to just get rid of the ball as the pressure started to built. Thankfully for the home side, the Royals didn’t have the quality to punish them.
Riding a mini storm to take a two-goal lead
The Magpies grew with confidence when Hayden proceeded into the Reading box to force Al Habsi to come off his line and make the stop from the midfielder.
And it was Hayden who won a free-kick on 69 minutes that would give the Geordies take a two-goal advantage. Gayle stepped-up from 25-yards to produce a stunning effort that curled past the Reading goalkeeper into the roof of the net.
Adding a fourth – a second for the number nine
With Gayle almost certainly putting the result beyond doubt with his sensational strike, his second was put on a plate by Hayden as the 21-year-old powered to by-line to find the unmarked Gayle for 4-1.