No three wins in a row for Nottingham Forest. No successive away victories for the first time since November 2016. Just a lacklustre performance at Reading.
The Reds were comfortably beaten 3-1 on a night when they were second best and failed to inspire the travelling support.
A brace from John Swift and one from Sone Aluko left the visitors three goals down with 10 minutes to go, with Ben Osborn’s late effort little by way of consolation.
Having gone into the match full of confidence from victories over Burton Albion and Hull City, it was a night to forget for the visitors.
It was something of a rarity before kick-off as boss Mark Warburton named an unchanged starting line-up for the trip to the Madejski Stadium, with Mustapha Carayol replacing Jamie Ward on the bench the only alteration from the side which beat Hull.
Daryl Murphy and Armand Traore were once again missing with hamstring problems, while Danny Fox continued to be sidelined with an unspecified knock.
Reading went into the match with just one win from their last nine outings in all competitions, sitting just two points off the bottom three. But it was they who set the tempo throughout the first 45 minutes and made the brighter start, testing Jordan Smith inside the opening five minutes.
After Swift had been gifted too much time and space, allowing him to get a shot away, which was blocked, Forest did not heed their lesson. Seconds later, Chris Gunter was given the same luxury and drew a decent save from the Reds custodian with an effort from just outside the area.
The visitors had not yet got going. And just when they did push forward for the first time, they found themselves behind.
A nice passing move earned Forest a corner from Barrie McKay’s deflected strike, but the set-piece went to waste and the Royals quickly capitalised. Leandro Bacuna broke down the right wing, shrugged off the challenge of Tendayi Darikwa and pulled the ball back for Swift, who swept it home for 1-0 with 13 minutes on the clock.
David Vaughan tried to spark an immediate response from Warburton’s side, but his long-range effort never troubled Vito Mannone, and instead it was Smith who was once again called into action.
A free-kick from deep was swung in by Aluko, with Smith’s flicked header pushed behind by his namesake.
And the Reds breathed a sigh of relief a few minutes later when an offside flag ensured they did not fall 2-0 behind; Barrow’s ball in having been turned home after he was played in by teammate Smith.
Looking flat and pedestrian, as well as allowing their opponents far too much possession, Forest could only muster an angled effort from Jason Cummings in an attempt to get back in the game. Mannone, though, comfortably held on to the ball.
Instead, it was the Royals doing all the running – and they could have added to their lead before the break.
Swift saw a shot saved just past the half hour, before Reading twice went even closer just before the whistle.
Smith failed to direct his header on target from an inviting Bacuna cross, then the latter kept up the pressure with a wicked strike from the edge of the box which needed pushing behind.
It brought to a close a dire first half from the Reds, who looked a shadow of the team which had seen off Hull.
Whatever was said at half-time seemed to work as they did emerge for the second period with a little more spark; Osborn being played in by Kieran Dowell and drawing a good block from Mannone from point-blank range two minutes into the half.
The Royals stopper needed to be on his toes again coming up to the hour as Liam Bridcutt tried his luck from range; a strong hand needed to push the ball away. Better from Forest.
They began to enjoy a bit more possession, but still lacked the cutting edge to do a great deal with it.
And just as they had started to get back into the game, they fell further behind.
Aluko had offered a warning sign with 66 minutes gone when a quick counter-attack saw him burst into the area and try to squeeze a shot home. The Reds defence crowded him out on that occasion, but there was no such interception four minutes later.
Great play from Swift and Bacuna saw the duo combine to superb effect, with the latter putting in a lofted cross for his team-mate to prod home at the far post and make it 2-0.
It looked like being game over for Forest, but suddenly they sprang into life.
Dowell and substitute Tyler Walker both drew very good saves from Mannone in the space of 60 seconds, then Osborn curled a decent effort wide from some way out.
Once more however, in the midst of a promising spell, the Reds conceded. And this one was a killer.
Another well-worked move from the hosts saw Aluko twist and turn in the box to create some shooting space, and though the angle was tight, he managed to drill it past Smith, who tried to make the save but could not keep the ball out of the net.
With 12 minutes remaining, it was a long way back for Warburton’s men.
Walker did manage to draw Mannone into action again with a header, and there was a late consolation effort from Osborn in the 81 minute – coming after he linked up with Dowell and expertly drilled it into the bottom corner.
But that was a rare moment of quality on an otherwise disappointing, and frustrating, night for Forest.
Reading: Mannone, Gunter, McShane, Moore, Bacuna, Van den Berg (Clement 46), Swift, Edwards, Barrow (Beerens 83), Aluko, Smith (Kermorgant 60). Subs not used: Blackett, Popa, Jaakkola, Richards.
Forest: Smith, Darikwa, Mancienne, Worrall, Lichaj, Vaughan (Bouchalakis 74), Bridcutt, McKay (Carayol 63), Dowell, Osborn, Cummings (Walker 68). Subs: Henderson, Mills, Clough, Brereton.
Attendance: 14,868 (1,282 away).