Adam Le Fondre scored a last-minute penalty to rescue Reading from an opening-day defeat in their Barclays Premier League second coming as they drew 1-1 with Stoke.
The Royals looked set to be taught a harsh lesson in the realities of top-flight football after Adam Federici's humiliating howler gifted Michael Kightly a debut goal and Dean Whitehead avoided what appeared a certain red card.
But new signing Garath McCleary came off the bench to turn the game, winning the penalty that finally saw Whitehead sent off and sent the Reading fans home happy from what was their first Premier League outing for four years.
Ian Harte's dead-ball skills caused a few problems but it took until the 20th minute for the first effort on goal to arrive, John Walters' pot-shot careering over the crossbar. Both sides seemed to be wilting in the heat and took the opportunity for a drinks break while Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic was treated for a facial injury.
Kaspars Gorkss should have hit the target with a free header from Guthrie's corner and Walters was unlucky to steer his own glancing effort narrowly wide from Kightly's free-kick.
It did not matter as Reading gifted Stoke the lead in the 34th minute. The Royals defence failed to clear a routine straight ball, which fell to Kightly, who was given an age to control and shoot. His strike took a slight nick off Gorkss but not enough to deceive Federici, who embarrassingly allowed it to slip through his arms.
Kightly would have had a second goal shortly after the restart had Gorkss not thrown himself at Walters' hooked cross from Peter Crouch's knockdown.
Reading should have been given a lifeline on the hour mark when Whitehead was penalised for felling Pavel Pogrebnyak in full flight on the edge of the box but Friend made the highly controversial decision not to produce a second yellow card. He also waved away two Pogrebnyak penalty appeals, which would have been equally controversial if given, before the home side threw on McCleary for Robson-Kanu.
McCleary instantly provided the guile Reading had been missing with a lovely reverse pass to Pogrebnyak, whose shot was blocked behind for a corner which saw the Russian nod the hosts' first effort on target straight at Begovic after 70 minutes.
Stoke looked certain to cling on before dramatically falling apart in the 88th minute. McCleary was allowed to advance unchallenged into the area and was upended by Whitehead. The referee awarded the penalty and showed Whitehead a deserved second yellow card before Le Fondre despatched the spot-kick to spark pandemonium at the Madejski.
- Dean Whitehead
- Michael Kightly
- Barclays Premier League
- Adam Federici
- Adam Le Fondre