Reading interim manager Paul Ince urged his players to be more “ruthless” as they slipped to a 2-1 Championship defeat against Cardiff.
Striker Lucas Joao headed home in the seventh minute, giving Reading a 1-0 half-time lead, but Cardiff struck twice after the interval.
Alfie Doughty drew Cardiff level with his first goal of the season and substitute Will Vaulks snatched the winner five minutes from the end.
With other results going their way, Reading could have gone 11 points clear of the drop zone by beating Cardiff.
Instead, after losing their four-match unbeaten record, they remain eight points ahead of 22nd-placed Barnsley.
“We should have been 3-0 up at half-time,” Ince said. “We had two great chances when we were 1-0 up.
“Had we taken those, it could have made the game a little bit easier for us. A bit more comfortable.
“We’re not just talking about chances, we’re talking about golden chances. We need to be more ruthless.
“As I said to the lads at half-time, we played really well in the first 45 minutes.
“But when you get chances like that, you’ve got to take them. Then you make the afternoon a lot more comfortable for you.
“In the second half, we suddenly decided to drop deep. I’m not really sure why we decided to do that.
“We needed a few leaders to get people up the park.”
Ince criticised referee Michael Salisbury for not spotting an apparent foul on Joao in the build-up to Cardiff’s equaliser.
“It was a diabolical decision, it was absolutely pathetic,” Ince said. “Lucas has clearly been dragged down.
“And for the second phase of the move, their lad also looks offside.
“All you ask is that referees do their jobs properly. When you’re trying to stay in this league, you want to rely on refs making the correct decisions. It was so blatant.
“As much as I was frustrated with our second-half display, I’m very disappointed with the referee.
“That decision changed the whole dynamics of the game.”
Cardiff are now mathematically safe from relegation.
“Yes, obviously that was the target when I took the job,” said Cardiff manager Steve Morison, who replaced Mick McCarthy in November.
“You’re not safe until you’re mathematically safe but we are now so it’s job done.
“We’re not going to go up and we’re not going to go down. That’s a nice feeling.
“We had a good reaction from the start of the game. I asked them to carry out a certain way of playing and they did that from start to finish.
“When we went in at half-time, I said to them: ‘Well done’. There was absolutely nothing wrong from the first half apart from the Reading goal.
“We kept playing and we kept believing. We got braver and braver as the second half went on.
“I think Reading had only one shot on target in the second half. We dominated the game with the ball and got our just rewards with two really good goals.
“We had a bad performance last week [losing 4-0 at home to Swansea] but we’ve only lost one in six. That’s the reality.
“It was an emotionally draining game today after an emotionally draining week.”
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