CHRIS WISE Reading 4, Norwich City 0: Norwich City’s faltering play-off hopes suffered another body blow as they were ruthlessly put to the sword by the best side in the Coca Cola Championship.
READING 4, NORWICH 0: Norwich City's faltering play-off hopes suffered another body blow as they were ruthlessly put to the sword by the best side in the Coca Cola Championship.
The arrival of three new players on transfer deadline day failed to inspire the Canaries who simply had no answer to the drive and flair of the runaway league leaders - and slipped to their heaviest defeat of the season as a result.
Reading were rampant from the very first minute and fully deserved to be 2-0 up at the break with Nicky Shorey firing home a sixth minute free-kick and Steve Sidwell doubling his side's advantage 11 minutes later with a thumping header.
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It could easily have been three or four at the interval, such was Reading's domination. And Steve Coppell's side duly doubled their advantage in the second period with a scrambled goal from Leroy Lita and an excellent solo effort from American international Bobby Convey giving the final score line a more realistic look.
City had their chances after the break and could easily have netted a couple of consolation goals, but they never threatened a comeback and are now a massive 10 points off the pace in the battle for the play offs with just 15 games left to play.
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With Robert Earnshaw, Jonatan Johansson and Zesh Reyhman now on board the Canaries won't be giving up the ghost just yet but it would clearly take an incredible effort for them to finish in the top six now.
City found themselves on the back foot from the word go at Reading's smart new stadium with the home side playing in a manner befitting the champions-elect.
With Glen Little playing out of his skin on the right the runaway league leaders mounted wave after wave of attacks and almost took the lead on four minutes when the winger's delicious cross was headed wastefully wide by Leroy Lita.
The torrid opening for City continued as Gary Doherty escaped with a yellow card after hauling back Kevin Doyle when he looked to have a free run on goal. The republic of Ireland defender could easily have gone for that, but it was a short-lived reprieve for the Canaries who went behind from the ensuing free-kick.
Left back Nicky Shorey moved up from the back to have a crack at goal and brought the big crowd to its feet as he curled the ball home superbly from some 22 yards to give his side a sixth minute lead.
The goal was no more than the Royals deserved for their scintillating start and they went close to doubling their advantage on 11 minutes. Doherty was again a central figure as he felled Lita with a desperate last ditch tackle as the striker prepared to pull the trigger. The home fans and players demanded a penalty but referee Lee Mason waved play on and, to everyone's amazement, the nearby Doyle somehow failed to produce the finishing touch with Green making a splendid reflex save to deny him from almost point-blank range.
The visitors then had a chance to get back into the game when reading old boy Andy Hughes and Paul McVeigh combined to put Dickson Etuhu through. But, with just the keeper to beat, the tall midfielder screwed his shot just wide of the target and reading made Norwich pay for that miss six minutes later.
That man Little was once again a thorn in City's side as he jinked his way down the right flank and to the by-line before delivering a pinpoint cross that landed straight on the head of Sidwell and was duly despatched into the back of the net by the former Arsenal midfielder.
To say Norwich then had a mountain to climb was something of an understatement but, to their credit, Nigel Worthington's side steadied the ship as the half progressed but they scarcely worried their confident hosts as a string of promising attacks fizzled out in the final third.
Indeed it was Reading who continued to look the more dangerous side, with a shot from Bobby Convey fizzing just wide of the upright and another long range effort from Lita bringing a good save out of Green.
Moments before the break Darren Huckerby volleyed into the side netting after some clever play from McVeigh but it had still been the most one-sided first half involving the Canaries all season and a score line of 2-0 did little to reflect Reading's overwhelming superiority.
City made a promising start to the second period with half-time substitute Jason Jarrett firing just wide after Reading keeper Marcus Hahnemann had failed to deal with McVeigh's teasing cross but any hopes of a fight back were swiftly snuffed out when Reading scored their third goal in the 54th minute.
There was an element of doubt as to who had scored it, with Simon Charlton being in close attendance as Lita got on the end of Doyle's low cross, but the Reading man was quick to claim his 11th goal of the season and the Norwich defender certainly wasn't about to argue with him.
The canaries then enjoyed their best period of the match, creating three excellent opportunities in the space of just five minutes. Dickson Etuhu twice went close, with a well-struck volley going just wide of the target before the Reading keeper produced a fine save to keep out his goalbound shot while substitute Ian Henderson somehow managed to pick out a defender after breaking clear down the left.
A consolation goal would have been no more than City deserved for their never say die attitude but it never came and reading showed how it should be done on 69 minutes when Convey ran through a static Norwich defence to blast home a fourth goal past the woefully exposed Green.
By that time on-loan striker Johansson had entered the fray and he had a chance to make his mark a few moments later when Huckerby laid the ball into his path after a swift break down the left. But in keeping with City's fortunes on the night the Finnish international screwed the ball well wide of the target from the edge of the six yard box.
Henderson also missed a good opportunity when he nodded Hugh's cross wide from point blank range to complete a miserable night for the travelling faithful. And it could easily have been even worse with Green producing an excellent fingertip save to keep out a firm header from reading substitute Brynjar Gunnarsson.
The fans can now only hope that the arrival of three fresh faces will have the desire effect ahead of Sunday's East Anglian derby at Carrow Road.
The deadline-busting transfer action was certainly the only good news for the Canaries on a night when their current limitations were cruelly exposed.