Times are tough at Reading – but not perhaps all that tough just yet. Bottom of the Premier League and 1-0 down at League One Crawley Town after 14 seconds, Brian McDermott's team will have felt the first stirrings of another FA Cup third round ragging to follow last season's defeat by Stevenage. In the event, Reading continued to play the patient, passing football that distinguished their promotion season, running out comfortable winners in a free-flowing game played out in the murk of the Broadfield Stadium's Subbuteo-wattage floodlights.
"It was probably the first time this season we've been favourites," McDermott said. "It's easy to panic when you go 1-0 down like that but the players reacted well and it's turned out to be an OK day."
The game's most dramatic point arrived with its flying start. Lining up in front of a club record crowd of 5,880 in the Broadfield's low rise corrugated stands, Reading might have sensed a dilution of the usual pitfalls of playing away at a lower division club – right up to the moment they went behind without having touched the ball. The goal was a beauty, Nicky Adams picking possession up on the right wing and spanking a left-footed shot past Adam Federici into the top corner.
Briefly Crawley were rampant, cheered on by the ultras in the Bruce Winfield stand, which is named after the now-deceased svengali behind Crawley's recent rise – albeit that the identity of the club's chief investor remains a mystery. Local rumour has it his name is Paul. The Hong Kong restaurant business has also been mentioned.
Wherever he was watching this match Hong Kong Paul will have been heartened by Crawley's early energy, even if their lead lasted only 12 minutes, Adam Le Fondre shooting low past Paul Jones after Garath McCleary's lovely cushioned header to the edge of the area. After which Reading asserted themselves and it was no great surprise when they took the lead just before half-time. McCleary left Mat Sadler in a corkscrewed heap inside the penalty area and crossed for Noel Hunt to finish calmly.
Three minutes after the break Reading made it three from the penalty spot after Joe Walsh tripped Hunt. "Joe said he got the ball," the Crawley manager, Richie Barker, said. "I believe the referee's made a mistake."
Le Fondre smashed the spot-kick into the top corner. After which the second half turned out to be something of a canter.