Goal Hunt ends for Noel
Noel Hunt ended his goal drought as a 1-0 win at Derby propelled Reading into the npower Championship play-off places.
Hunt provided a rare highlight in a dull encounter at Pride Park when he headed the only goal of the game just after the hour mark.
It was the first time the Irishman had found the back of the net in 10 matches since scoring a last-gasp winner for the Royals at Ipswich on November 26.
It gave Reading a third straight league win and the three points lifted Brian McDermott's side one place to sixth in the table.
Derby saw their three-game winning run at home in the Championship ended but a bright note from the night for them was the return to action of Steven Davies following four months out with a fractured skull.
Davies was included in the matchday squad for the first time since suffering the injury during the Rams' 1-1 home draw with Southampton on October 15 and the striker made his long-awaited comeback as a half-time substitute.
Derby manager Nigel Clough stuck with the same players that started the goalless draw at Millwall on Saturday, with midfielder Paul Green continuing at right-back in place of the injured John Brayford.
On-loan striker Ryan Noble was not involved and he will return to Sunderland when his loan expires tomorrow.
Reading made one change with Hal Robson-Kanu replacing Joseph Mills, who was amongst the substitutes.
Former Derby forward Tomasz Cywka was not included due to an agreement between the clubs when the Pole made his move to the Madejski Stadium last month.
It was a dire affair that must have struggled to maintain the interest of even the most devout Ram or Royal.
Neither goalkeeper saw the ball until midway through the first half, and even then Adam Federici's save from Callum Ball's tame header was as routine as they come.
Federici caught a long-range effort from Nathan Tyson soon afterwards.
At the other end, Frank Fielding made a similar stop from Hunt's 20-yard shot.
If Clough introduced Davies for the start of the second half in a bid to liven things up - midfielder Craig Bryson was the man to make way - it did not work.
Hunt missed with two efforts from just outside the box shortly after the interval.
The game's defining moment came in the 61st minute. Derby forward Jamie Ward felt he had been fouled on the edge of the Reading box but the referee waved play on and the Royals broke swiftly.
Jimmy Kebe led the charge down the right and his cross was headed home by Hunt from six yards out.
The visitors seemed to settle for that.
Derby continued to toil but were unable to fashion any sort of scoring opportunity.
Theo Robinson, another Rams striker named on the bench at the start of the game after injury, and Green had efforts from long range but missed the target.