READING FC slid closer towards the relegation trap door after defeat at an icy Carrow Road.

Royals fell short of a comeback in East Anglia and have won just once in 18 Championship matches, dropping to 20th in the table.

The six-point gap that separated them from the relegation zone has been slashed to three after Birmingham's 3-0 win at Hull City.

And with a seriously tough run-in to come, Jaap Stam's men are fighting for their Championship lives.

Royals' under-pressure boss made two changes from the side that lost at leaders Wolves in Tuesday's rearranged fixture.

Academy graduate Sam Smith started up front in place of the injured Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, while a fit Liam Kelly returned in central midfield.

Norwich were forced into an early reshuffle when Timm Klose collided with Smith.

The hosts still threatened first through Onel Hernandez, though pressure from Sone Aluko at the other end almost led to an own goal, but for Angus Gunn's swift adjustment.

Yet Royals went behind with 14 minutes on the clock as their weak defence was exposed again. A second successive corner was flicked on by Grant Hanley and Mario Vrancic stole in at the back post to give Norwich the lead.

Stam's men were relieved to keep it at 1-0 when Vrancic overpowered the visitors and linked up with Josh Murphy whose cross was turned over by Hernandez.

And they threatened an equaliser, Smith's header lacking the power to beat Gunn from Mo Barrow's cross.

Norwich were far more clinical and duly added a second from a simple set piece in the 26th minute. Maddison swung a corner into the box and Hanley leapt above everyone to plant a header past Anssi Jaakkola for a 2-0 lead.

But the visitors regrouped and pulled one back six minutes later to give themselves a lifeline.

Gunn managed to save Kelly's free-kick and Aluko's follow-up, but he could do nothing to stop Kelly from netting with a second shot at goal.

At that stage the comeback was on against nervy hosts in poor form themselves.

But Norwich quickly regained their two-goal advantage in the 37th minute from the penalty spot.

Jaakkola was adjudged to have taken out Maddison as they competed for Murphy's cross, with Maddison making no mistake from the spot-kick and a 3-1 lead.

Reading responded and Smith raised hopes of a comeback once again with his first Championship goal seven minutes after the break.

It was a goal straight out of the club's academy, Kelly swinging the ball in from the left for Smith to direct a volley past Gunn to make it 3-2.

But there was to be no comeback as Norwich saw the game out from there.

Hernandez almost scored when his shot deflected off Liam Moore and against the post with Jaakkola stranded.

Smith fired wide at the other end from Chris Gunter's cross after the introduction of John Swift had given Royals more energy.

But Norwich could have added a fourth when Dennis Srbeny went clear through only to shoot side with only Jaakkola to beat.

Stam's men kept fighting to the end and almost snatched a third goal when Gunn denied substitute Yann Kermorgant from Swift's assist.

And an encouraging finish from the visitors saw Barrow's cross-shot fizz an inch past the post.

Norwich City: Gunn, Pinto (c), Reed, Vrancic, Murphy (Hoolahan 90), Klose, Maddison, Hernandez, Lewis, Hanley, Srbeny (Watkins 89). Unused subs: McGovern, Husband, Zimmermann, Oliveira, Edwards. Booked: Hernandez, Hanley.

Reading: Jaakkola, Gunter (c), Blackett, Moore, Ilori, Edwards (Kermorgant 82), Clement, Kelly (Van den Berg 62), Aluko (Swift 53), Barrow, Smith. Unused subs: Mannone, Evans, Bacuna, Holmes. Booked: Jaakkola, Clement, Barrow, Blackett, Kermorgant.

Referee: Oliver Langford.

Attendance: 25,098.