Yann Kermorgant scored the important opening goal which leaves Reading firmly on course for the play-offs and slumping Sheffield Wednesday heading in the opposite direction.
In-form Fulham can, indeed, leapfrog above Wednesday on Saturday should they beat struggling Wolves although they, and Reading, could thank the visiting goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi for an inspired performance.
Kermorgant, who helped Bournemouth win promotion to the Premier League two years ago, opened the scoring but the outcome was only settled deep in injury-time when Adrian Popa walked the ball into the goal on the counter-attack after Wednesday keeper Kieren Westwood camped upfield in the closing seconds.
The two teams have spent the bulk of the season looking apparent favourites to end the season in the play-off positions but a recent loss of form for both clubs, plus the rapid rise up the table of Fulham, added a large degree of anxiety to the Hillsborough fixture.
Both with one win from their previous five league games, and with Reading having scored just twice in that span, it was a match neither manager could afford to lose.
But by the time Kermorgant shot the Royals into a 13th minute lead, they had already looked the side more likely to improve that recent, barren run.
John Swift’s pass found the Frenchman outside the area and he cut in, beating left-back Morgan Fox a little too easily, before despatching a precise low finish into the far corner of the Wednesday goal.
It was a devastating blow to home supporters who had seen their team drop precious points at Hillsborough to Brentford and Burton in the past month.
The Owls responded, with Adam Reach’s low shot from the edge of the area thundering into the advertising hoardings and Sam Winnall showing more accuracy, but less power, with a shot straight at Al Habsi.
But Reading had been good value for their early lead. Danny Williams won an early corner with a deflected shot, Kermorgant controlled a through ball neatly on his chest and tried, unsuccessfully, to lob Keiren Westwood and Williams exchanged passes with Garath McCleary before shooting well over.
In response, Barry Bannan’s crosses offered a threat but it was not until they were a goal behind that Wednesday really began to look capable of beating Al Habsi.
On 23 minutes, Fox did precisely that, with a sweetly-hit left-foot shot from the edge of the area but his effort struck the foot of the right-hand post and rebounded to safety.
The intensity increased with a scything tackle by Tyler Blackett on Jordan Rhodes directly in front of the benches incensing the combustible Wednesday manager Carlos Carvalhal who clearly felt the Reading defender fortunate to escape with only a yellow card.
And Wednesday maintained the pressure with Reach hurrying a shot over from Rhodes’ strong knockdown and then the duo swapping roles with Rhodes attacking a deflected Reach shot and heading goal wards only to see Al Habsi pull off a magnificent save.
The second half opened in similar fashion with Rhodes’ physical presence causing Reading problems in the visitors’ penalty area and opening up an opportunity for Reach whose low shot passed wide of the goal again.
And a foul by Joey van den Berg on Sam Winnall drew a free-kick from which Bannan picked out Rhodes whose deft flick at the near post again missed the target.
Bannan found Rhodes again, this time from an accurate 68th minute corner which the prolific forward met with a header which lacked the necessary power to beat Al Habsi who simply smothered the effort on his goal line.
Substitute Callum McManaman thought he had equalised with a 78th minute shot following another spell of Wednesday pressure only for Liam Moore to clear off the line.
But that was the start of an incredible finale which saw Wednesday unable to beat the inspired Al Habsi.
The goalkeeper denied Will Buckley with a remarkable double save, showed incredible reflexes to dive low to deny McManaman twice and also kept out a powerful Buckley header.