Reading left it late once again to secure a valuable 2-1 win over Sunderland and lift themselves clear of the Premier League relegation zone.
Two strikes from Jimmy Kebe either side of Craig Gardner’s penalty saw Brian McDermott’s side earn their fourth win in six Premier League games, to continue a remarkable run of form.
The Madejski Stadium was in fine spirits after Reading’s fine recent run, and the home crowd were soon given all the more reason to cheer as the hosts took the lead within the opening seven minutes.
Jobi McAnuff was given too much space on the left-hand side of the penalty area and took full advantage, cutting a teasing ball back to the edge of the box where a lurking Kebe was on hand to deftly skip past the challenge of Jack Colback and smash the ball into the roof of the net.
It was a sign of things to come, as Sunderland’s makeshift full-backs struggled to deal with the Royals’ threat from wide areas all afternoon, and were penned back inside their own half for much of the opening period.
The visitors first attempt on goal did not come until the 24th minute, when Alfred N’Diaye drove to the edge of the box and hit a low shot that was well saved by Adam Federici, who then managed to get up and block Sebastian Larsson’s follow up.
The Swedish midfielder wanted a penalty for Ian Harte‘s challenge as he went for a loose ball, and his wish was belatedly granted minutes later when Pavel Pogrebnyak lunged in with a wild challenge on John O’Shea after the ball was half cleared from a corner, giving referee Lee Mason no choice but to point to the spot.
Gardner stepped up and slammed the ball into the bottom corner with characteristic aplomb, giving Federici no chance, despite the Australian diving the right way.
The Russian striker almost made amends for his moment of madness when he rose to meet Harte’s dangerous in-swinging free-kick on 40 minutes, but his header was well saved by Simon Mignolet at the near post.
The second half started at a pedestrian pace, with Sunderland seemingly content to frustrate the home team and try and strike on the counterattack.
The lack of cutting edge soon had the home fans crying out for super-sub Adam Le Fondre, and Brian McDermott duly obliged just after the hour mark, bringing the striker on to replace Garath McCleary.
However, it was centre-back Adrian Mariappa who came closest to breaking the deadlock, rising impressively to meet another dangerous Harte corner and planting a header straight onto the Sunderland crossbar.
Martin O’Neill responded by bringing on new signing Danny Graham to make his debut, but the self-confessed Newcastle fan was greeted with cheers from the Sunderland fans who had booed him in a Swansea shirt just a few days earlier.
The striker was in the thick of it straight away, earning a corner with a blocked header before rising to meet the resultant set piece and forcing Federici to tip the ball over the bar.
Just as the visitors looked to be posing an increased threat up front, the Royals went down the other end of the pitch and grabbed a trademark late goal, as Kebe met yet another Harte cross at the far post to head home with five minutes to go.
Sunderland piled everything forward in the last few minutes, but were unable to test Federici, and became the latest victims to the Reading late show.