READING FC were mauled at Molineux by the Championship's champions elect.

A night of damage limitation in the Midlands against Nuno Espirito Santo's turbo-charged Wolves ended without success.

Both clubs may be in the hands of Chinese ownership, but that is where the similarity stops.

Wolves, fuelled by £57m of summer investment, have the title in their hands.

Reading, with £15m of spending, are languishing 43 points behind and could still go down.

Jaap Stam still has the backing of the Reading board, but the statistics are damning.

One win in 17 league games speaks for itself.

Reading's one and only Championship victory since beating basement boys Sunderland on December 2 was a 3-1 victory at fellow relegation favourites Burton Albion on January 30.

They remain six points above the relegation zone despite tonight's defeat.

And that cushion may be enough to keep them in front of the bottom three Birmingham, Burton and Sunderland come the end of the season.

But that can only highlight just how far Royals have fallen in the past 10 months after finishing third last season and losing in the play-off final.

The fixture list is not good viewing either with QPR, Aston Villa, Preston, Fulham and Cardiff City to come in the last nine games.

Suddenly, the home clash with Sunderland and trip to Sheffield Wednesday next month are simply must-win games.

But few would back Reading to beat any opposition in their current form. They did not have a shot on target tonight and were chasing shadows for most of the game.

Wolves may have been downed 4-1 by Villa at the weekend, but they were a class above Stam's men.

Stam made two changes from the side that drew 2-2 with Leeds on Saturday including a recall for Tyler Blackett.

Dave Edwards also returned in midfield against his former club, with Liam Kelly and Leandro Bacuna the men to miss out.

Kelly picked up a knock against Leeds, while Bacuna dropped to the bench that included fit-again striker Yann Kermorgant plus academy quartet Andy Rinomhota, Sam Smith, Danny Loader and Tom Holmes.

A trip to the league leaders was a daunting task in the kind of form Reading were in - but they dug in during the early stages and frustrated the big-spending hosts.

They even had a sniff at goal in the fourth minute when Willy Boly fouled Mo Barrow just outside the area.

But Aluko's free-kick took a nick off the wall and went behind for a corner that came to nothing.

As you would expect from a side 40 points ahead before kick-off, Wolves steadily saw more of the ball and began to seriously threaten.

But when Helder Costa crafted a shooting opportunity in the 17th minute, Anssi Jaakkola was equal to it with an impressive save.

The hosts were also hit by an injury blow seven minutes later when Ivan Cavaleiro replaced top-scorer Dioga Jota.

It may have knocked Wolves' confidence as they struggled to create much of note against a well-organised defence.

Sadly, Reading are never more vulnerable than in the minutes before half-time - and so it proved again as they conceded five minutes before the break.

They were lucky to survive when Barry Douglas missed the target with a back-post header from Costa's cross.

But full-back Matt Doherty stayed alert and nodded the ball past Jaakkola despite the best efforts of Tiago Ilori to keep it out.

Reading lacked any kind of cutting edge in the opening 45 minutes, and they were soon under the cosh after the break.

They were grateful to see Benik Afobe shoot wide from Doherty's assist four minutes into the second half.

Douglas then went close with a deflected free-kick after Chris Gunter had collided with Afobe.

Afobe, though, had shown enough mercy against his former club and he doubled Wolves' lead in the 59th minute.

Blackett was caught out as Costa got clear and Portuguese laid the ball on a plate for Afobe to tuck in for the second of the night.

The former Royal had done his job for the night and was given a rest with 18 minutes to go and with Santo's eye on bigger challenges ahead.

And as though to hammer home their superiority, Wolves added a third just a minute later through Doherty again.

The full-back found Costa who returned the pass and Doherty did the rest with a sweetly-struck effort past Jaakkola from the edge of the area.

That was game over. Stam, also with one eye on Saturday's trip to Norwich, took off Bodvarsson and sent on youngster Sam Smith with 12 minutes to go.

It was like raising the white flag, conceding defeat, accepting you are nowhere near the standards for those fighting for promotion.

But the days of fighting for promotion must seem like an age away for Royals fans at this point.

At least Jaakkola kept his concentration to the very end with a smart double save to deny Costa in the 90th minute and prevent Wolves from netting a fourth.

But the chasm between the sides had been clear to see and Royals must quickly regroup for Saturday's trip to Norwich City (3pm).

Wolves: Ruddy, Doherty, Douglas, Bennett, Neves, Boly, Coady, Costa, Jota (Cavaleiro 25), Afobe (Bonatini 72), Saiss (N'Diaye 78). Subs not used: Norris, Batth, Gibbs-White, Miranda. Booked: Bennett 85.

Reading: Jaakkola, Gunter, Blackett, Moore, Ilori, Evans (Bacuna 63), Edwards, Clement, Aluko, Barrow, Bodvarsson (Smith 83) . Subs not used: Mannone, Kermorgant, Rinomhota, Loader, Holmes. Booked: Gunter 51, Evans 54.

Referee: Robert Jones.

Attendance: 27,341.