The narrow win was no less than Nigel Adkins’ men deserved as they stretched their unbeaten run of games at home to four in the first ever top-flight meeting between the two teams.
Puncheon’s breakthrough goal arrived on the hour mark when he collected Clyne’s pass inside the area to slide a shot into the far corner of Adam Federici’s goal, which was justice for the winger who had a legitimate looking goal ruled out in the first half.
Saints dominated for long spells of the contest despite losing skipper Adam Lallana to injury in the first half, and were largely untroubled although they did survive a scare at the end of the opening 45 when Hal Robson-Kanu struck the post.
But a solid defensive display earned the hosts a second clean sheet of the season - the first for the returning Kelvin Davis – whilst results elsewhere also saw Saints move out of the relegation zone and up to 15th in the table.
Saints: K. Davis, Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw, Puncheon, Cork, Schneiderlin, Lallana (Ramirez 40), Lambert, Rodriguez (Guly 78). Subs (not used): Boruc, Hooiveld, S. Davis, Ward-Prowse, Mayuka.
Reading: Federici, Cummings, Morrison (Pearce 65) Mariappa, Shorey, Leigertwood, Tabb (Hunt 69), McAnuff, Robson-Kanu (McCleary 77), Roberts, Le Fondre. Subs (not used): Taylor, Harte, Guthrie, Samuel.
Referee: Jon Moss
Attendance: 29, 331
Kelvin Davis and Jay Rodriguez were restored to the starting line up with Paulo Gazzaniga sidelined through injury, whilst Gaston Ramirez started amongst the substitutes for the first time at home since he joined the club.
It was the visitors who got the game underway attacking into the fading sunlight at the Chapel end defended by the returning Saints club captain.
Nigel Adkins’ men were quick off the mark too, winning a corner inside the opening minute of action which Jay Rodriguez did his best to turn home, but with the angle against him, he found the side netting from six yards out.
The attacking threats of the home side were making their presence felt in the opening exchanges, with Saints taking the game to a well organised opponent, but finding gaps, with Lambert getting a strong shot off that just dipped wide of Adam Federici’s near post.
A neatly constructed move followed up with Puncheon instrumental in working the ball out to Clyne, who squared the ball across the area for what looked like a certain goal, only for the ball to ricochet off Schneiderlin and drift harmlessly wide.
Another corner won in the eleventh minute maintained the pressure on the Royals, but Federici was next made to work on 16 when Lambert flicked the ball onto Lallana who struck a decent effort with the outside of his boot that the ‘keeper did well to get across to.
Jay Tabb struck over at the other end as the visitors snaffled a chance from a Jason Roberts cross, but Saints were soon back in control and tested Federici again in the 20th minute when Lambert hit a curling shot towards the far post that the ‘keeper just about held on to.
Puncheon, Rodriguez and Lallana all combined for the latter to fire over as the hosts turned the screw.
Kelvin Davis got his first touch of the ball in the 23rd minute when he easily gathered a Shaun Cummings’ cross, and he was also on hand to keep out a dinked effort from Roberts on the left side moments later.
Davis was at his best to deny Tabb on the back of a quick break on 28. The Saints stopper pushed the Reading winger’s near post strike away, whilst appeals for a penalty from the visitors fell on deaf ears as Tabb went down under Cork’s last ditch challenge.
Saints appeared hard done by when Puncheon’s far post header into the net from a Lallana corner was ruled out for an infringement inside the area, but replays proved inconclusive as to what the misdemeanour was.
A brief pause in the game ensued as Lallana was forced off with a knock sustained to his knee under a challenge on the left flank.
His replacement was Gaston Ramirez on 40 minutes who took up Lallana’s position on the left.
Puncheon won Saints another corner in the closing stages of the half which led to Yoshida seeing his header cleared from the line, whilst Lambert’s follow up cleared the bar, with Adkins’ men ending the first 45 very much on top in the game though there was still time for Hal Robson-Kanu to put a header on the near post from a late Royals corner.
Half Time: Saints 0-0 Reading
With no changes for either side at the break, both teams began the second half with renewed vigour.
Saints soon picked up from where they left off though with Puncheon forcing Federici into a near post save before the Royals hurried their lines clear from another good move down the right.
Cork and Rodriguez linked up for the latter to hit a strike on the turn which flew narrowly wide of the far post as Saints appeared to be resuming control of an edgy contest.
And the key breakthrough goal arrived on the hour mark with a goal richly deserved for the hard working scorer. A slick move down the right flank led to Clyne picking out the run of PUNCHEON inside the box, and the winger kept his cool to fire a shot across Federici and into the far corner for 1-0.
Although knocked by the goal, Reading nearly hit back straightaway when McAnuff fired narrowly over from the left side with Davis left standing.
The visitors replaced Sean Morrison with former Saints loanee Alex Pearce in defence on 65 minutes before following up with the introduction of Noel Hunt for Jay Tabb.
Davis saved well from a Reading chance inside the area on the back of a corner, but the visitors were left kicking themselves when Robson-Kanu’s cross wasn’t put on target by Adam Le Fondre, who had managed to win space inside the area for a comfortable looking header, only to put it wide.
Saints continued with a patient approach to keep their opponents at bay, whilst remaining a threat in front of goal with Clyne almost catching Federici out at his near post with a rising shot.
Hal Robson-Kanu was replaced by Garath McCleary on 77 before Saints brought on Guly for Rodriguez for the final 12 minutes.
With the contest still on a knife edge inside the last ten minutes Saints looked to put the game to bed with Puncheon trying his luck again from distance before Guly was just inches away from doubling the lead with a dipping strike on the edge of the box.
Late in the game Reading applied pressure through a couple of set pieces, but Saints never looked in too much trouble at that end, and indeed almost scored again when Guly got free inside the area, only for Fedrici to make a fine block inside his six yard box.
A nervy wait for the final whistle in three minutes of stoppage time was cut short by some impressive possession from the home side who sealed a welcome third win on home soil of the season.
Full Time: Saints 1-0 Reading