Stoke 2 Reading 1
Robert Huth’s first goal of the season and a superb Cameron Jerome effort ensured Stoke returned to winning ways as Reading’s recent good run came to an end at the Britannia Stadium.
The Potters, who had not registered a Barclays Premier League victory since Boxing Day, were in control for virtually the entire contest and finally broke down their opponents’ stubborn resistance in the 67th minute when Huth nodded home a Glenn Whelan corner.
Substitute Jerome then cracked the ball in with nine minutes of normal time remaining having taken the ball down neatly and turned his marker.
Adrian Mariappa pulled one back with a header two minutes later, but the Royals - who have scored a host of important late goals in recent weeks in an unbeaten sequence of four league games – could not complete a last-gasp fightback on this occasion.
They remain 17th in the table, two points clear of the relegation zone, while Stoke stay 10th.
With Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson watching from the stands – in preparation for his team’s FA Cup clash with Reading, but perhaps also to keep tabs on reported Red Devils target Asmir Begovic – it was the Potters who made the better start.
The lively Matthew Etherington sent an early corner bouncing across the six-yard box, with Peter Crouch rushing in to meet it and just unable to apply a finish.
Crouch then managed to connect with an Etherington cross from the left but could only head wide under pressure from Mariappa.
Reading had a sniff at the other end, with Mikele Leigertwood dragging an effort wide, but Stoke were soon back on the attack and Michael Kightly saw his shot blocked by Mariappa just before the half-hour mark after he had drifted past Ian Harte into the area.
Adam Federici tipped over when Potters captain Ryan Shawcross tried to guide the ball in left-footed from a failed clearance, and Crouch then looked to produce something similar to his spectacular goal last season against Manchester City – only to slice his attempted volley well off-target.
Moments later the striker fashioned a much better acrobatic effort, chesting down Kightly’s cross, letting the ball bounce and then firing it goalwards with a scissors kick, bringing a good save out of Federici.
Stoke kept up the pressure as half-time drew near, with several Reading men throwing themselves in the way of a Huth strike to ensure it deflected behind.
It took 11 minutes of the same one-way traffic in the second half for Royals boss Brian McDermott to take off Nick Blackman, the January signing who had been handed a full debut, and bring on in-form striker Adam Le Fondre.
The tide was stemmed temporarily and Hope Akpan sent in a long-range effort for the visitors which Begovic gathered comfortably.
But Potters manager Tony Pulis then made changes of his own, introducing Kenwyne Jones and Jerome for Crouch and Kightly, and within two minutes the hosts had lead the lead.
Jon Walters won a corner with a deflected shot on the turn and it was delivered by Whelan to Huth, who crashed a header past Federici.
Stoke looked to finish the job off but Etherington put his shot over the bar, and Le Fondre – scorer of five goals in Reading’s recent unbeaten run – then began to cause problems.
He had the ball in the net in the 74th minute, but referee Michael Oliver judged Pavel Pogrebnyak had handled before teeing Le Fondre up and the strike was disallowed.
The Potters pressed once more and Mariappa made an important clearance when Jones tried to nod the ball into Jerome’s path.
Jerome then capitalised on a Mariappa error, collecting the ball when the Reading defender misplaced a header from Shawcross’ long delivery, getting the better of Alex Pearce and smashing a strike into the net.
The Royals hit back swiftly with Mariappa heading in Harte’s corner, but they could not salvage anything this time, with both sides having penalty appeals waved away in the closing stages.
Le Fondre felt he had been knocked over by Ryan Shotton during the final attack of the match, but Oliver was unmoved.