Derby County were forced to settle for their second 0-0 in the space of five days, as a tight, tactical battle at the Madejski Stadium ended goalless.
The Rams have now gone 365 minutes since their last goal, but were unfortunate to not break their duck against the Royals, with substitute Patrick Bamford denied by an excellent save from goalkeeper Alex McCarthy in the second-half.
Reading will also be wondering how they failed to find the back of the net, as Adam Le Fondre and Hope Akpan were both left red faced as they saw close-range opportunities fall wide of the post.
It was a lively opening from the hosts who pegged the Rams back in their own penalty area in the first few minutes with dangerous in-swinging free-kicks from Royston Drenthe, one of which required a brave headed clearance from Richard Keogh from almost underneath his own crossbar.
After the initial bombardment from Drenthe’s left-foot, Derby settled and were patient on the ball, which soon led to opportunities for the away side as Jamie Ward beat Jordan Obita with ease down the right before cutting the ball across the face of goal that narrowly evaded the ensuing Chris Martin.
Moments later the Northern Ireland international scampered towards goal after picking up a loose ball in midfield, but tamely fired wide. The early naivety from Obita saw the Rams try and exploit the young winger’s indecisiveness, by switching the play with cross-field diagonal passes to leave him isolated up against Ward.
Martin and Ward then both had pot shots blocked, before the latter headed straight into the arms of goalkeeper McCarthy from Craig Bryson’s inviting right wing cross.
However, the Royals’ side was littered with pace, while the overlapping runs of Chris Gunter and Obita provided plenty of width, and in a swift counter attacking move, Drenthe cut inside and lashed a shot into the side netting.
Despite Drenthe’s effort, it was Derby who remained on top, and the Rams almost took the lead when Martin nodded wide from Ward’s cross in the twentieth minute, prior to Craig Forsyth spurning the side’s best opportunity of the half, turning Ward’s quickly taken corner over from close-range.
The Rams were dealt a blow in the 29th minute, as Hughes, who was the metronome in the side’s midfield, helping build momentum with quick passes, was withdrawn through injury, and was replaced by Jeff Hendrick.
In the second-half, Reading produced an early warning shot as Jobi McAnuff tested Lee Grant with a daisy cutter, while Gareth McCleary fizzed a shot wide of the shot-stopper’s far post.
Derby’s riposte was almost emphatic as Andre Wisdom found Simon Dawkins at the back post, but the former Tottenham forward shifted the ball onto his right foot, which allowed a Reading wall to form in front of him, and subsequently saw his shot blocked.
Head Coach Steve McClaren introduced Bamford shortly after the hour mark, and the on loan Chelsea striker almost found the back of the net with his second touch of the ball. The 20-year-old controlled Martin’s pass prior to thrashing a right-footed effort inches past McCarthy’s far post.
In the space of seven minutes both sides had a golden opportunity to break the deadlock, as firstly, substitute striker Le Fondre inexplicably diverted McCleary’s cross over from inside the six-yard box. Up the other end, Ward’s exquisite first time pass sent Bamford clean through on goal, but the England Under-21 international was thwarted by a spectacular sprawling save from McCarthy.
The Rams were left thanking the Royals’ misfiring front line as Hope Akpan, like Le Fondre, took up a similar spot at the far post, but again failed to hit the target, before substitute Nick Blackman volleyed McCleary’s cross over the bar.
The late flurry of goalmouth action continued as John Eustace somehow managed to pick out Bamford through a cluster of players, but the forward was off balance, and could not turn the ball towards goal.
In the final two minutes, Le Fondre did finally find the back of the net, but the former Rotherham United forward was penalised for turning it in with the use of his arm, and was deservedly booked, as both side's had to settle for a single point.
Reading: McCarthy (GK); Gunter, Obita, Gorkss, Pearce; Akpan, Guthrie, McCleary, McAnuff; Drenthe (Blackman 79’); Robson-Kanu (Le Fondre 32’).
Substitutes not used: Federici (GK), Kelly, Hector, Taylor, Blackman, Pogrebnyak.
Derby County: Grant (GK); Wisdom, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Eustace, Hughes (Hendrick 29’), Bryson; Ward (Russell 90’), Martin, Dawkins (Bamford 62’).
Substitutes not used: Legzdins (GK), Whitbread, Sammon, Thorne.
Attendance: 19,514 (1,623 visiting supporters).