Storm clouds gathering for Reading as Gayle sweeps in to secure Stoke victory
Dwight Gayle ended his 50-match goal drought as Stoke claimed their first points of 2023 with a 4-0 thrashing of Reading.
Will Smallbone’s smart early finish paved the way for the Potters, who secured a first home victory since early November.
The influential Tyrese Campbell doubled the advantage in the second half to tighten the hosts’ grip before Jacob Brown added a late third.
And an impressive Stoke performance was rounded off by Gayle, who scored his first goal since December 2020 in fortuitous circumstances.
In the process, the Potters secured their biggest victory in the Championship since July 2020 as they rose to 18th.
Meanwhile, the travelling Royals offered little in terms of resistance as they slumped to a fourth league outing without a win.
With rumoured Leicester target Harry Souttar missing with a hip injury and Nick Powell also absent, boss Alex Neil was handed a selection dilemma.
And despite the enforced changes in personnel, the hosts started brightly in their quest to end a three-match losing streak in the second tier.
A fast-paced opening for the Potters was rewarded inside 11 minutes when Southampton loanee Smallbone scored his second goal in red and white.
Gayle dispossessed Andy Yiadom before an Campbell teed up the youngster to slot home with a cultured effort.
Stoke, who had the joint second worst home record in the division prior to the tie, rallied to make the most of their early advantage.
Scotland forward Brown fired towards goal from a dangerous position, but his deflected strike looped onto the roof of the net, much to the relief of goalkeeper Joe Lumley.
Reading threatened to take advantage of the home side’s wastefulness in front of goal and their best opening came just before the interval.
Yakou Meite found himself in acres of space, but his powerful effort was pawed clear by a strong Jack Bonham.
The risk of a Royals reprieve spurred the hosts on after the restart and Campbell was denied by Lumley straight from kick-off.
However, the his persistence paid off when a curling strike took a deflection off Tom Holmes beyond a wrongfooted Lumley.
Paul Ince made changes as he tried to inspire a late comeback with the introduction of Shane Long and Lucas Joao, but their efforts were fruitless.
Stoke made their dominance count as Brown sparked a strong end to the game when he bundled home an enticing Josh Tymon delivery.
And an afternoon to remember for the hosts was completed when a Josh Laurent long-range strike deflected off Gayle and rolled into the far corner.
Neil’s side clinched a much-needed first league win in over a month and a first clean sheet in eight Championship matches.