Reading currently lead Watford 1-0 at Vicarage Road Stadium after Kaspars Gorkss headed the visitors in front early into the contest.

The Golden Boys handed Alexander Merkel his debut in the holding midfield role after he joined the club on loan from Udinese.

The 21-year-old was one of four changes to the starting XI; as Hector Bellerin and Daniel Pudil returned at right and left wing back and Lloyd Doyley replaced Nyron Nosworthy at right-sided centre half.

Fernando Forestieri and Davide Faraoni were back on the bench after injury but Jonathan Bond was not included due to illness, with Gary Woods the replacement goalkeeper.

Cristian Battocchio has been linked with a loan move to Padova by an Italian rumour website but he was among the replacements.

Reading started the match strongly and took the lead in the fifth minute when Jordan Obita had a shot deflected for a corner and the same player’s delivery was headed in at the near post by Kaspars Gorkss.

Merkel was sloppy in possession on several occasions in what was his first competitive outing since March and he arguably should have done better when Bellerin’s cross broke to him 12 yards out. Yet his shot was tame and too central, allowing Alex McCarthy to make a simple stop.

Lewis McGugan produced a dangerous, low delivery which flashed across the goal mouth and then Pudil did the same moments later, but clear-cut chances were few and far between.

Six minutes before the break, McGugan sent in a deep free-kick which was misjudged by McCarthy but Pudil was unable to reach the ball and direct it goalwards.

Reading’s attacking threat all-but diminished after their bright start but the visitors still went into half-time ahead.

Watford: Almunia; Doyley, Angella, Ekstrand; Bellerin, McGugan, Merkel, Murray, Pudil; Fabbrini, Deeney.

Subs: Woods, Battocchio, Forestieri, Hall, Faraoni, Iriney, Nosworthy.

Reading: McCarthy; Gunter, Gorkss, Pearce, Williams, Obita, Akpan, McAnuff, McCleary, Pogrebnyak, Le Fondre.

Subs: Federici, Kelly, Cummings, Hector, Drenthe, J Taylor, Blackman.

Follow the second-half action here.