WREXHAM'S hopes of escaping the Second Division relegation zone vanished with a third straight league defeat at the Madejski Stadium last night.
Wrexham were well organised and resilient at the back and frustrated a Reading side who knew that victory would take them into the top four.
But football - even in the Second Division - is a squad game these days and Reading eventually owed their success to substitutes Nicky Forster and Darius Henderson.
What Wrexham would give to have someone of the quality of Forster who effectively settled matters with a cool 69th-minute strike that was the 100th of his productive career.
Five minutes were remaining when Henderson punished Wrexham's eagerness to hold a high line at the back, and scored with a shot that went in off the far post.
Wrexham had had little more than 48 hours to recover from the 3-1 Welsh derby defeat to Cardiff City on Sunday and manager Denis Smith freshened things up with four changes.
Martyn Chalk and Paul Barrett came into central midfield with Darren Ferguson and Stephen Thomas weakened by illness, while Brian Carey and Shaun Holmes returned at the expense of Stephen Roberts and Michael Blackwood.
Former England winger John Salako tested Wales Under-21 'keeper David Walsh after cutting onto this favoured left foot but that was a rare scare for Wrexham during a first half which saw them grow in confidence.
Keen to provide strikers Lee Trundle and Craig Faulconbridge with more than their Sunday service, Wrexham tried to hit telling diagonal balls from wide positions. This tactic almost paid off after 32 minutes when Holmes's pass was touched on by Faulconbridge and Carlos Edwards brought a goal line save from Phil Whitehead.
Trundle's eye for a goal saw him attempt an audacious David Beckham-type chip from near the halfway line. That effort was wide of the mark but Trundle, like all good goal scorers is never shy to try again and his power soon created space for a low drive that forced Whitehead into the best save of the half.
If Wrexham thought the comfortable nature of the first period would be repeated after the break then they were rudely awoken within 45 seconds of the restart.
Andy Hughes scampered into space behind Holmes and his cross eluded Martin Butler after the faintest of touches from Walsh. The chance was not lost though and Salako should have done better than fire straight at the grateful Walsh despite being faced with a tight angle.
Reading's momentum was building but Butler was stretchered off just after the hour mark after falling heavily in a challenge. However, it proved a blessing in disguise as Forster reached his century of goals within eight minutes - the game's defining moment.
Forster reacted quickest to Graeme Murty's ball down the right hand channel and the former Brentford and Birmingham City striker held off Keith Hill to beat Walsh with a powerful finish that the keeper got a hand to.
Edwards responded with a ground shot across Whitehead's goal but increasing Reading pressure saw Henderson put the issue beyond doubt after he had missed a similar one-on-one opportunity against Walsh moments earlier.