Doncaster Rovers 1 (Sharp 81 pen)
Reading 2 (Long 39, Howard 77)
Brian McDermott's Royals hung on for a crucial victory at Doncaster Rovers this evening, despite a nervy end to a dramatic second half at the Keepmoat.
Shane Long put Reading ahead with a good glancing header on Brian Howard's 39th minute cross and the Royals were in control.
And Brian Howard seemed to secure the points for Reading when he passed home a second under Neil Sullivan with only 13 minutes of the match remaining.
But Matt Mills blocked a late Rovers strike with his chest and arm and was duly sent off against his former club. Billy Sharp stroked home the penalty to set up a tense finale in South Yorkshire.
And Reading needed a couple of acrobatic saves from Adam Federici and more than ten minutes of stubborn defending to deny Doncaster an equaliser.
Deny them they did though, repelling attack after attack and heading away cross after cross. And Reading hung on for three invaluable and deserved points to the delight of the travelling fans.
Doncaster (4-3-2-1): Sullivan; Chambers, Roberts, Martis (Hird 69), O'Connor; Stock (c), Oster, Wilson (Hayter 74); Coppinger, Shiels (Guy 74); Sharp.
Subs: Smith, Mutch, Dumbuya, Heffernan.
Reading (4-2-3-1): Federici; Griffin, Bertrand, Ingimarsson (c), Mills; Gunnarsson, Karacan; McAnuff, Kebe (Church 60 (Khizanishvili 81)), Howard (Thorvaldsson 90); Long.
Subs: Hamer, Pearce, Davies, Rasiak.
Yellow: McAnuff, Bertrand
Att: 8,827 (337 away fans)
The game began at a frantic pace and the first shot on goal came from the boot of Dean Shiels, but Adam Federici welcomed an early touch and saved easily on a misty Yorkshire evening.
The home side began the better in fact, Mark Wilson drilling a left-footed effort just wide of the left upright with just seven minutes on the clock.
With a quarter of an hour gone, McAnuff led the Royals on a break, cutting in from the left before being brought down by Chambers only yards outside the box. Howard stepped up to curl the free kick over the wall and Sullivan pulled off a good save to fingertip it over his crossbar and behind for a corner.
Ex-Royal John Oster had the same opportunity minutes later, but his curling free kick was calmly swallowed by Federici.
Midway through the first half, Jimmy Kebe touched the ball past left back Gareth Roberts to race into space down the left and his early cross was well met by Howard's header that shaved the sidenetting while a nonchalant Sullivan stood and watched.
With 25 minutes gone, Kebe found acres again down the right after a superb Long flick. He chose not to centre early to the breaking Howard and instead powered to the byline before pulling it back to McAnuff 15 yards out on the far side of the box. McAnuff tried to control it, not trusting a first time shot on a bobbly pitch, but his touch was loose and a great chance wasted.
At the other end, Billy Sharp looked most dangerous, cutting inside two Royals defenders on the left side of the box before seeing his scuffed effort charged down. It came out to Brian Stock, but his effort skewed well wide.
The game was fairly even when Shane Long broke the deadlock. Swift footwork from Howard on the right saw him skip away from Shelton Martis and supply a superb cross into the middle. It flew over Karacan but Long got high enough to deflect it home from yards out.
Soon after the restart, Federici was called into action, saving full stretch to his right from a well-struck volley from Chambers and before the interval Coppinger saw a stabbed effort skid wide of the bottom left corner as Rovers rallied.
End to end stuff in the opening minutes of the second period, Long twice trying to break for the Royals and Oster flashing a speculative effort wide from 25 yards for Rovers.
Doncaster created an opening on 53 minutes when Mills conceded a throw by shutting out Shiels. The throw was taken quickly to Chambers who drilled a cross into the six yard box, it ricocheted off Mills and kindly for Shiels who sliced a 15-yard volley high into the stands.
Simon Church replaced a hobbling Kebe on the hour and took no time to test Neil Sullivan's handling, fizzing in a low cross that the Rovers stopper gathered into his chest.
Coppinger earned some space down the right and his cross almost fell for Stock - but Howard slid in to deny Doncaster a shot on Federici's goal and concede a corner.
But the Royals were creating chances at the other end too. Church intercepted a pass in midfield and fed Long early. He touched it onto his left boot and unleashed a great strike from 22 yards out, but Sullivan's acrobatics denied the Irishman a second as he tipped it over his bar.
With 19 minutes left, only and Andy Griffin last ditch tackle denied Doncaster a certain equaliser and with the pressure mounting it seemed the Royals might well need a second to make sure of the points.
Rovers made a double change and Federici's unsure punch inside his box was rescued by the offside flag as Doncaster began throwing the kitchen sink at Reading's defence.
But the advantage looked much more comfortable when Reading doubled the lead. Church and Long exchanged intricate passes to break on the under-manned Rovers defence and Long nudged it on to Howard in space to his left on the edge of the area. He passed it under Sullivan with a left-footed finish to make it 2-0 and send the travelling support wild.
But then the game turned on its head. Chaos in the Royals box saw Mills charge down a shot and Doncaster players appealed for a handball. on the goalline. The referee agreed, sent Mills off and awarded a penalty to the hosts. Mills walked off dejected, claiming it struck him on the stomach, but Billy Sharp sent Federici the wrong way to ignite the contest again.
In the final minute of normal time, Rovers came within a whisker of a leveller. James Hayter ran onto a flicked header and smashed a left-footed strike that shuddered against the crossbar and away.
With the Royals desperately holding on the fourth official signalled that there would be a minimum of six minutes of injury time to play!
And Federici had to pull off a save for the cameras in the fourth minute of added on time, when O'Connor's deflected shot threatened to earn Sean O'Driscoll's men a smash-and-grab point in the dying embers.
And as the game dragged into a nervous and inexplicable seventh minute of injury time, Federici had to be sharp on his feet to backpedal and touch a dinked effort over his crossbar.
Eventually the final whistle sounded and the Royals had all three points. The visitors deserved it, but they had to endure a shaky final few moments after Mills' dismissal and Sharp's penalty kick.