LEANDRO Bacuna saw red as Reading FC were made to pay for their lacklustre finishing in a 1-0 defeat at high-flying Fulham FC.

Forwards Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Mo Barrow both fluffed their lines at the vital moment as Reading missed two clear-cut opportunities to take the lead at Craven Cottage.

And Royals were punished when Stefan Johansen pounced on a delightful Matthew Targett cross to put the hosts in front in the 25th minute.

The visitors continued to ask questions of  Slaviša Jokanović's men, but in truth the home side dominated the majority of the game and could have easily scored three or four on the night.

The Cottagers are now unbeaten in 20 league matches and replaced Cardiff City in second place in the table as they edge closer to the Premier League.

Royals, meanwhile, remain 19th and five points above the relegation places after Barnsley were beaten at Ipswich Town in Mick McCarthy's final game in charge at Portman Road.

Reading boss Paul Clement made just one change from the side that beat Preston North End on Saturday as Dave Edwards returned from his one-game suspension to replace John Swift, who was relegated to the bench.

The Cottagers were brimming with confidence ahead of kick-off, knowing a win could move them into the automatic promotion places.

They nearly forced an early opening through wonderkid Ryan Sessegnon. The 17-year-old span around Royals skipper Chris Gunter and accelerated into the box, but his delivery was superbly dealt with by Liam Moore.

Bodvarsson then squandered a glorious opportunity to put Clement’s side ahead with five minutes played.

The Icelandic striker’s deft flick beat the on-rushing Marcus Bettinelli, but his shot was hacked away by Cottagers’ Tim Ream with Edwards ready to pounce.

But it was Barrow, who netted the winner against Preston, who squandered the most gilt-edged opportunity when he scuffed Bodvarsson’s cross from the right with the goal at his mercy.

Barrow eventually picked out Kelly inside the area, but the midfielder’s powerful drive cannoned off of a defender and away from danger.

Royals’ positive start continued and they almost fashioned another chance when Barrow’s teasing cross was hooked away for a corner with 16 minutes gone.

But Royals were made to pay when Targett’s left-footed cross split Reading wide open and fell perfectly for Johansen, who slid the ball past Vito Mannone to put the home side in front.

Johansen’s strike lifted the hosts’ spirits and Jokanovic’s men continued to pile forward through Tom Cairney and former Royal Lucas Piazon.

Aleksandar Mitrovic rose highest to get on the end of a Johansen free-kick and came within inches of doubling Fulham’s lead with 33 minutes gone.

Royals struggled to recapture their early momentum and squandered several passing opportunities as a frustrated Clement watched on from the sidelines.

Mitrovic missed another header on the brink of half-time as the hosts continued to pile pressure on Royals’ full-backs.

Barrow snaked his way into the box and very nearly picked out Dave Edwards in the centre but Fulham defended well and went into the break a goal ahead.

Royals came flying out of the blocks and a neat Bacuna pass nearly set Edwards through on goal shortly after the restart.

The hosts hit back, but Ryan Fredericks’ cross was over-hit and trickled out for a throw-in.

Fulham soon got back into their stride and continued to pin Reading into their own half. Liam Kelly and Bacuna did well to play their way out of trouble, with the pressure mounting in the final third.

Edwards made way for playmaker Swift after 58 minutes as boss Clement tried to inject more urgency into Royals’ attacking play.

Kelly’s whipped free-kick almost fell kindly to Tiago Ilori, but the defender was just inches away from a tap-in.

Johansen then fluffed his opportunity to bag a brace when he miss-controlled a delicate flick from Fredericks inside the six-yard box.

He came within inches of scoring again just seconds later, but Mannone was alert and palmed away the strike.

Barrow’s lung-busting sprint almost helped him get on the end of a risky Kevin McDonald cut-back, but Bettinelli was on hand to smother the ball with 67 minutes on the clock.

Strikers Yann Kermorgant and Chris Martin were both thrown into the game with Reading desperately trying to find a way back.

But Neeskens Kebano almost settled the tie seconds after being introduced when he danced his way into the box and flashed a right-footed shot beyond Mannone’s far-post on 82 minutes.

Gunter then had to hook Mitrovic’s effort off of the goal line with Kebano creeping in at the back post.

There was no let-up from Fulham who continued to test Royals in every department.

But there was further disappointment to come for the visitors when Bacuna earned a straight red card for a needless lunge on Sessegnon, making him the third player to see red in Clement's four games in charge.

The break in play sparked a miniature pitch invasion and the hosts went on to claim a priceless victory to move them a step closer to the Premier League.

Fulham FC: Bettinelli, Fredericks, Sessegnon, Odoi, McDonald, Johansen (Norwood 88), Cairney, Ream, Piazon (Kebano,79), Targett, Mitrovic. Subs not used: Button, Fonte, Christie, Kalas, Kamara. Booked: Targett 59.

Reading FC: Mannone, Gunter, Moore, Ilori, Richards (Martin,74), Kelly, Edwards (Swift, 58), Bacuna, Barrow, Aluko, Bodvarsson (Kermorgant, 68). Subs not used: Jaakola, Van den Berg, Clement, Holmes. Booked: Richards 32. Red card: Bacuna 90+3.

Referee: Lee Mason.

Attendance: 19,272