Memories of the early season victories over Arsenal and Manchester City, with which West Bromwich Albion greeted their return to the Premier League, are fading fast. After going out of the FA Cup to Reading for the third time in the last six years, Roberto Di Matteo's team face a struggle for top-flight survival in the last four months of the campaign.
Albion have lost 11 of their past 14 matches in all competitions – including the last five in a row in the league – and the manner of their performance here suggested confidence may be ebbing away. For all their territorial domination as they pressed for an equaliser in the second half, Albion looked short on ideas and inspiration.
Eddie Newton, the assistant manager, confirmed after Saturday's match that Albion are still keen to sign John Carew, the Aston Villa striker. "We're interested in him, there's no doubt about that," Newton said. "It's important to get new faces in, but it's also important to get the right people in."
If Albion gave Shane Long too much space for the winning strike here, the striker scoring his seventh goal in the last six games after racing on to Noel Hunt's flicked header, credit also had to go to Reading's in-form marksman, who is said to be a transfer target for West Ham United. Long, who beat Boaz Myhill with a cool finish, was a threat throughout, as were Hunt and the Royals' two speedy wide men, Jimmy Kebe and Jobi McAnuff.
Reading (4-4-2) Federici; Cummings, M Mills, Pearce, Harte; Kebe, Karacan, Leigertwood, McAnuff; Hunt (Robson-Kanu, 86), Long (Church, 75). Substitutes not used McCarthy (gk), Tabb, Ingimarsson, Antonio, Howard.
West Bromwich Albion (4-3-1-2) Myhill; Hurst, Zuiverloon, Scharner (Olsson, h/t), Cech; Barnes (Thomas, 63), Jara, Dorrans; Brunt; Miller (Bednar, 52), Morrison. Substitutes not used Carson (gk), Cox, Shorey, Fortune.
Booked Dorrans. Sent off Olsson (60).
Possession Reading 52% West Brom 48%. Shots on target Reading 5 West Brom 1.
Man of the match Mills. Match rating 6/10.
Referee J Moss (W Yorkshire).