Reading manager Veljko Paunovic praised the maturity of his players as they maintained their Championship play-off chase with a 3-1 victory over struggling Derby.
Nineteen-year-old Michael Olise gave Reading the lead on the stroke of half-time, with George Puscas increasing the advantage early in the second period.
Although Derby reduced the gap near the end through Tom Lawrence, substitute Lucas Joao pounced for his 22nd goal of the season as Reading ended a run of four matches without a win.
“It was a big result against a hard team,” Paunovic said. “It wasn’t easy at all but it was a very good performance.
“We showed a lot of maturity and fierceness from the team, which shows that we all understand what an opportunity we have ahead of us.
“We didn’t take much to prepare for this, the focus of the team was always there because of the awareness of the moment of the season where we are.
“We all know what we have to put out there. From that perspective, the team is at the best moment that we have been in this season.
“We now have to look to recover the guys that we keep losing because of the injuries.
“This is due to the severity and the intensity of the competition.
“But I was very happy, as I always am, with the performance like today.
“As we look at it, though, we will be taking one game at a time. That is always the way.”
Derby remain eight points clear of the relegation zone, although 22nd-placed Rotherham have four games in hand over them.
“We gave away sloppy goals at bad times,” Derby manager Wayne Rooney said. “Though I felt that the performance was quite good.
“That’s one of the positives that we can take out of the result.
“But we just can’t afford to give away those type of goals. We have to make sure that we stay more solid.
“We know that Reading are a good team and have very good attacking players.
“At times, I felt that we dealt with that quite well today. But then we gave away those goals and that was it.
“If we can continue with that sort of performance and become more solid, then we’ll be winning more games.”
Derby have few fit forwards left to field, with Lee Gregory and Martyn Waghorn among the injured strikers.
But 35-year-old Rooney, England’s record goal scorer, said he would not consider playing again.
“No, not at all,” Rooney said. “I’ve had my time as a player and I think that I’ve made that quite clear.”