READING FC failed to test Leeds United’s title credentials in a comfortable victory for the promotion-chasing visitors.

Jose Gomes’ side took renewed momentum into the clash after back-to-back wins had nudged them clear of the relegation zone.

But a woeful first-half display was clinically punished by a slick Leeds side whose victory sent them back to the top of the table.

The gulf in class between the teams was clear to see, particularly in the opening 45 minutes when Marcelo Bielsa’s men threatened to run riot They went in front on 14 minutes through Mateusz Kilch before two crackers from Pablo Hernandez on 22 and 43 minutes did even more damage.

And while Royals improved after the break, it was nowhere near enough to trouble the visitors as they coasted home with relative ease and wasted several chances to add to the scoreline.

The only silver lining for Royals were defeats for relegation-rivals Wigan at Blackburn and Bolton at home to Sheffield Wednesday.

It means Royals remain 19th and three points above the drop zone, though a win for Rotherham at QPR tomorrow night would put them level and only behind on goal difference.

What is clear is Royals will have to raise their game against the top teams in the division from here on in.

Gomes’ men still have to play Norwich City, Bristol City, West Brom and Middlesbrough – all top-six teams – before the end of the season.

As a result, the pressure on Royals going into their other fixtures including Saturday’s clash their other games including Saturday’s trip to Stoke City takes on even greater meaning.

Gomes made two changes from the side that beat Wigan Athletic at the weekend.

Ovie Ejaria missed out through injury so Ryan East was handed his debut on the night the club confirmed the youngster has signed a new deal until 2021.

Danny Loader also got the nod ahead of Garath McCleary, while Liam Moore passed a late fitness test after dislocating his shoulder on Saturday.

There was little between the sides in the early exchanges until Royals threatened on 11 minutes.

They worked the ball to the left where AndyYiadom collected the ball in space, but Kiko Casilla stood tall at his near post to block the full-back’s shot on the angle.

But Reading’s promising start quickly evaporated as Leeds went in front just three minutes later.

Bielsa’s men broke with pace and, with Reading’s defence out of position, Patrick Bamford let Luke Ayling’s pass run to the unmarked Kilch who side-footed past Emi Martinez from eight yards.

It wasn’t the start Gomes will have wanted, nor was the sloppy passing that began to creep into Royals’ play.

You cannot afford to give away cheap possession against a side of Leeds’ quality, and so it proved again when the visitors doubled their lead in the 22nd minute.

A poor Royals failed to clear the danger off when Ayling collected the ball and fed Hernandez whose low drive from the edge of the area beat Martinez, hit one post, then the other, before rolling over the line.

Leeds’ tails were up and they almost snatched a third two minutes later when a sizzler from Kilch whistled a foot wide of the far post, then Bamford tested Martinez from similar distance.

It was becoming too easy for the visitors who knocked the ball around with confidence and found acres of room in the middle of the park.

Yet Reading wasted a decent chance to pull one back seven minutes before the break.

Meite got free of his marker and raced into the box, but his cross was easily cut out by Liam Cooper as he tried to find Mo Barrow in front of goal.

Leeds were not so wasteful at the other end as they snatched a third two minutes before the break.

Reading did not appear to be in any danger when Bamford slipped the ball to Hernandez, but the Spaniard took one look before rifling an unstoppable shot from 25 yards into the top corner leaving Martinez flapping at thin air.

Gomes resisted the temptation to make changes at the break, but his side continued to get the details wrong as Loader’s final pass to a rapidly-advancing East lacked precision.

Yet Leeds were fortunate not to see Ayling sent off for a second yellow in the 55th minute.

The full-back, booked in the first half, stuck out a leg as he cynically brought down Barrow, but referee Gavin Ward decided a talking to would suffice – much to the annoyance of Reading fans.

And Bielsa, fearing a potential red card, wasted no time in taking Ayling off less than a minute later and sending on Stuart Dallas.

Reading threatened soon after when Baker’s strong run lacked an end product, then Gomes sent on fresh legs by replacing East with Harriott.

Within moment the created a clear-cut chance as Tyler Blackett sent over a cross to othe back post, but Yiadom’s header was tipped over by Casilla.

Tyler Roberts replied but failed to trouble Martinez from 18 yards, then at the other end Loader’s header drifted wide from a teasing Callum Harriott cross.

By that stage Reading had handed another debut to another Academy youngster Michael Olise from the bench in place of Barrow.

But they were soon on the back foot again as Jamie Shackleton drilled an effort inches wide before Bamford dragged one past the far post with only Martinez to beat.

Then in the closing stages Martinez beat away a Jack Harrison piledriver before Hernandez blazed the rebound over.

Garath McCleary did sting Casilla’s hands soon after coming on, but it was far too little, far too late.

Reading FC: Martinez, Blackett, Moore (c), Miazga, Yiadom, Baker, East (Harriott 63), Barrow (Olise 69), Swift, Loader (McCleary 81), Meite. Subs not used: Walker, Gunter, O'Shea, McShane. Booked: Swift 82.

Leeds United: Casilla, Alioski, Cooper, Jansson, Ayling (Dallas 56), Phillips, Klich (Douglas 74), Roberts (Shackleton 69), Harrison, Hernandez, Bamford. Subs not used: Peacock-Farrell, Berardi, Brown, Gotts. Booked: Roberts 10, Ayling 29, Douglas 86.

Referee: Gavin Ward.

Attendance: 17,101.