AN EARLY goal from Kwesi Appiah and two in the second half from Michael Hector and Garath McCleary sealed a 3-0 victory for the visitors that confirmed Derby County would be playing Sky Bet Championship football again next season.
The loss saw Derby slip out of the top six for the first time since September, meaning they wouldn’t be competing in the play-offs for the second time in as many seasons.
Derby got off to a disastrous start, when Appiah gave the visitors the lead after just two minutes, but the Rams were unlucky to go in at the break a goal down having created a host of chances to equalise
Derby were thwarted again and again by an impressive display from Royals’ ‘keeper Adam Federici, who pulled off a string of magnificent saves – including one from a Darren Bent’s spot kick – to keep the visitors’ lead in tact.
After the restart, Derby continued to see more of the ball, but were unable to make their domination pay and were punished for it twice in the final twenty minutes.
When Derby failed to deal with a reading corner in the 78th minute, Hector didn’t need a second invitation to thump the ball past Grant from close range.
And late on, the visitors capped a miserable afternoon for the Rams when Jem Karacan was brought down by Grant in the box and McCleary put away the penalty to seal the win for the away side.
Derby went a goal down within two minutes as a loose pass gave possession away to Appiah and the Reading forward put the visitors ahead with the first attack of the game.
The Rams looked determined to find a quick equaliser and ten minutes later, Royals’ ‘keeper Federici was forced to make a fantastic save to keep out Tom Ince’s 25-yard free kick.
Seconds later, Ince’s corner from the right found Bent in the box, but the forward’s glancing header whistled agonisingly wide of the far post.
At the other end, Reading broke away and had a good chance to double their lead, but Karacan’s shot was well over Grant’s crossbar.
Chances were coming thick and fast and Bent looked to have found the top corner in the 21st minute with a superb curling effort from the corner of the box, but Federici was equal to it.
Moments later, Federici denied Derby twice more, stopping two close range efforts from Ryan Shotton.
The Rams were creating chances at will and when a low cross from Ince missed everyone in the six yard box, Russell picked up the loose ball and fired a powerful shot at goal, but only found the outside of Reading’s net.
Derby continued to dominate and some patient build up play ended when Bent picked up the ball on the edge of the box and laid it off for Hendrick, but the midfielder’s first time shot was always rising and sailed over.
Reading carved out a chance minutes later when Raul Albentosa upended Tarique Fosu-Henry and Grant had to be at his best to keep out Oliver Norwood’s dipping shot from the resultant free kick.
Derby thought they’d found their way back into the game on the stroke of half time as Russell burst into the box before being hauled to the deck with referee James Lillington pointing straight to the spot.
Darren Bent stepped up to take the spot kick and looked to find the bottom corner, but Federici got down quickly to make yet another impressive save to maintain his side’s lead.
Reading almost doubled their lead ten minutes after the restart as Fosu-Henry danced his way through the Derby defence before stroking a left footed shot inches wide of the post from close range.
As the half wore on chances were scarce, but it was Reading who would find the net again with less than twenty minutes remaining, giving Derby a mountain to climb.
A Fosu-Henry effort from outside the box looked goal bound, Grant reacting quickly to tip it over. But from the resultant corner the ball fell to Hector, who smashed home to double the visitors’ lead.
Almost immediately Derby came close to halving the deficit as substitute Chris Martin tried to turn Lingard’s corner in at the near post, but his header only found the side netting.
Seven minutes from time, the Rams came close again as Darren Bent was sent clear, but as he tried to round Federici, his touch was too heavy and the chance was gone.
But Derby’s misery was compounded as another quick Reading break saw Jem Karacan race into the box before being brought down by Grant to earn a penalty for the Royals.
Garath McCleary despatched the penalty to seal the win for the visitors with the result confirming Derby would be competing in the Championship again in August.
Derby County: Grant (GK), Shotton, Keogh (C), Albentosa (Ward 74), Forsyth, Warnock (Lingard 32), Hendrick, Hughes, Ince, Russell (Martin 45), Bent
Substitutes not used: Roos (GK), Christie, Sammon, Rawson
Reading: Federici (GK), Gunter, Pearce, Norwood (Cooper 90), Obita, McCleary, Chabolah, Hector, Karacan (C) (Williams 86), Stacey (Fosu-Henry 30), Appiah
Substitutes not used: Kelly, Cox, Blackman, Andersen (GK)