Crucial time ahead for Pardew
Newcastle boss Alan Pardew will return to his desk on Monday facing 10 pivotal days in a season which is unravelling at an alarming rate.
The Magpies plunged deeper into crisis on Saturday when, having battered fellow strugglers Reading to the brink of submission, they turned in an abject second-half performance to surrender a 1-0 lead and eventually go down 2-1 in a game they simply could not afford to lose if they wanted to show they were not in a relegation scrap.
They now find themselves just two points clear of the Barclays Premier League drop zone ahead of another huge fixture at Aston Villa - where they were relegated at the end of the 2008-09 season - on January 29.
Press Association Sport understands Pardew, who was booed by the home fans as he made his second-half substitutions, followed by a chorus of "You don't know what you're doing", is under no immediate pressure despite winning just three of the 18 league games since he signed his eight-year contract at the end of September.
That is largely a reflection of an acknowledgement at boardroom level that a significant proportion of the trouble which has befallen his side in recent months has been beyond his control.
Demba Ba's contract situation was a ticking time bomb which was always likely to explode in the manager's face, while want-away skipper Fabricio Coloccini's personal problems could not have been foreseen, and there is an acceptance that the club's summer transfer policy, which saw them recruit only Vurnon Anita to the senior ranks, was flawed.
Owner Mike Ashley and managing director Derek Llambias will attempt to address several of those issues before the close of the January transfer window - they will hold talks with Coloccini and his representatives this week, while Montpellier defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa is due on Tyneside on Monday, and the hunt for a striker after Loic Remy's late defection to QPR is ongoing.
In the meantime, Pardew will attempt to regroup and plot a route out of an increasingly cloying mire while at the same time persuading disaffected fans that he can turn a difficult situation around.
Striker Shola Ameobi said: "Obviously the fans are entitled to that. They pay their money to come and watch us play and hopefully win and when we are not doing that, it's understandable that they are frustrated.
"But I'd like to say there is no-one as frustrated as the players ourselves and the manager.
"We understand that the team here is geared to win and when we are not doing that, the fans are entitled to that.
"But they have to keep on believing because as players, we are and we are working as hard as we can. We are just not getting the rub of the green at the moment, and that's usually what happens when you are down there fighting in the relegation spots.
"The message from our point of view is keep on believing, keep on backing us and hopefully, we can turn this around sooner rather than later.
"We have got a very good group of lads who have, I believe, the attitude that it takes to be a great side.
"Unfortunately, when you go on a losing run, it's hard to break out of it, and that's what we are finding now.
"But it's not for the lack of endeavour, not for the lack of trying and we have got characters in there who want to help this club win."
In truth, Newcastle should have had the game wrapped up by half-time after dominating the opening 45 minutes.
On another day, striker Papiss Cisse might have had a hat-trick but for the heroics of keeper Adam Federici.
But in the event, they had only the returning Yohan Cabaye's exquisite 35th-minute free-kick - just Newcastle's second goal in four games since Ba's departure for Chelsea - to show for their efforts.
However, the break proved a watershed in the game and as the Royals stepped up a gear, their hosts simply fell apart.
Substitute Adam le Fondre bundled home Jimmy Kebe's 71st-minute cross within seconds of coming off the bench with defender Mike Williamson and keeper Tim Krul both culpable, and the newcomer took advantage of further woeful defending to win the game six minutes later.
Pardew's decisions to replace first Sylvain Marveaux and then Cabaye did not go down well, although he later revealed injury had forced the latter off the pitch.
He said: "I actually thought Yohan would get through the game with the work he has done, and that just rebounded on me in a way I couldn't foresee."
Opposite number Brian McDermott headed away from wintry Tyneside a happy man after seeing his side ease its way out of the bottom three, but refusing to look too far ahead.
He said: "I very much live for today. I don't look at the last performance or the ones to come, I just look at today.
"I have been proud of our players all season. We have been learning the league."