Reading preserved their fine home form with a hard-fought goalless draw against league leaders Newcastle United at the Mad Stad this evening.
Although neither keeper was beaten, chances came and went at both ends in a gruelling battle with Matt Ritchie striking a post for the visitors while Garath McCleary hit the crossbar in the final minute.
But ultimately the two sides settled for a point apiece to boost their respective promotion charges.
Jaap Stam made four changes to his side with Lewis Grabban, Liam Kelly, Jordon Mutch and and McCleary all recalled in place of Roy Beerens, John Swift, Adrian Popa and Danny Williams.
Reading took advantage of Ritchie’s early error when the Newcastle midfielder’s scooped clearance fell to Royals forward McCleary who whipped in an inviting cross for Grabban, but his header went wide inside the opening minute.
The Championship leaders threatened early on too through Yoan Gouffran but the winger’s header was saved at the second attempt by Ali Al-Habsi.
Newcastle also went close through Jonjo Shelvey who linked up smartly to receive a flicked through ball back from Daryl Murphy and the former Liverpool man fired a volley from outside of the box which required strong hands from Al-Habsi to palm the ball away. Gouffran had a shot saved too from long range.
Reading enjoyed good spells of possession in the first period without troubling Magpies keeper Karl Darlow with Royals youngster Liam Kelly overhitting his cross after a nice build up and Darlow did well to come out and claim the ball from a corner under pressure from Liam Moore.
High-flying Newcastle ramped up the pressure as half-time drew near with Shelvey seeing his shot being blocked out for a corner by Moore before Ritchie forced a superb save out of Al-Habsi, who tipped the midfielder’s shot beyond the post.
It was Ritchie just moments later who went closest to breaking the deadlock when his effort hit the inside of the post and rolled across the face of the goal where the Royals skipper Paul McShane was on hand to turn the ball out for another corner.
It was nearly the perfect start to the second period for the home side as McCleary cut inside to fire at goal and his looping, deflected shot flew just wide of Darlow’s post.
Ayoze Perez hit the side netting for Newcastle but was judged to have been in an offside position just before Reading’s Mutch blocked the ball to set Kermorgant off down the right who returned the ball to Mutch but the Crystal Palace loanee could not pick out a teammate.
Magpies sub Christian Atsu found Paul Dummett who played the ball into Murphy whose powerful header demanded Al-Habsi to get down low and parry the ball to safety.
McCleary had another shot deflected wide after picking up the ball and driving towards the Newcastle defence.
Rafa Benitez then brought on Championship top scorer Dwight Gayle as both sides pushed for a winner to take all three points.
McCleary saw the run of Grabban and played through the striker but keeper Darlow was there to smother the ball just before Grabban could pounce.
Down the other hand, Al-Habsi had to be quick to collect the ball with the pacy forward Gayle chasing Shelvey’s early ball.
In stoppage time, Atsu squared the ball to Ritchie whose shot was deflected for a corner and in the last kick of the game sub Danny Williams flicked the ball into the path of McCleary who darted towards goal only to see his effort clip the crossbar and away.
Ultimately, both sides were forced to settle for a point in to leave Reading fifth in the Championship and keep pace with their play-off rivals.
READING (ratings out of 10): Al-Habsi 8; Gunter 7 , McShane 7 (c), Moore 7 (Obita 50 7), Blackett 7; van den Berg 6 , Mutch6.5 , Kelly 7 (Williams 45 7.5); Grabban 6, McCleary 8.5*, Kermorgant 7.
Subs not used: Jaakkola, Evans, Swift, Popa, Beerens.
Yellow card: Gunter (90+2)
NEWCASTLE: Darlow; Gamez, Lascelles (c), Clark, Dummett; Ritchie, Shelvey, Colback (Diame 88), Gouffran (Atsu 68); Perez, Murphy (Gayle 75).
Subs not used: Elliot, Anita, Hanley, Mbemba.
Referee: Andy Davies
Attendance: 23,121 (inc. 3,704 away)