A tough battle. Full of drama. And three huge, huge points to show for it as the Royals were ultimately 2-1 winners against Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday evening.
John Swift opened the scoring for Reading in first-half stoppage time, but Amari’i Bell’s equaliser late on threatened to spoil the party.
But Nélson Oliveira was the man of the moment. A stunning winner, four minutes from time, gave Reading a victory that left the home crowd elated.
Just 10 days after suffering a nasty facial injury, Oliveira was back to action and amongst the starting XI to meet Rovers – equipped with a face-mask for protection.
His inclusion was one of four changes for the Royals, with Ovie Ejaria returning from illness to start and Academy graduate duo Omar Richards and Liam Kelly drafted in for starts.
Conditions were still and mild, ideal for football on the deck – yet the early stages saw the teams competing in aerial battle. And after Ben Brereton was knocked to the ground by Tyler Blackett, Rovers skipper Charlie Mulgrew was off target with an early sighter from the free-kick.
Goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez added another fine save to his highlight reel on the ten-minute mark, keeping a quick Blackburn counter at bay. Liam Kelly was caught in possession on halfway, allowing the visitors to break with numbers – Adam Armstrong played wide to Brereton before striking first time on the return, only to be kept out by the Argentine.
The Royals were being pressed high by Blackburn, who were winning the ball upfield. But Oliveira nearly scored with an outrageous effort before the midpoint of the first half; fed by Andy Yiadom, the striker drifted an early shot from 40 yards, catching goalie David Raya cold, but landing on the roof of the net.
Momentum was beginning to build and the full-backs were getting in support of the Reading attack readily. Yiadom linked up with Ejaria on the right and drew a save from Raya from a narrow angle.
But the visitors soon wrestled back the initiative and were retaining and circulating possession well, to Reading's frustration. The Royals defence, which had kept clean sheets in their last two outings, were standing firm again; when Craig Conway burst through on the left, he could only find side netting.
Mulgrew again had an opportunity from a free-kick before the end of the first period; his effort dipped just in front of Martínez but the goalkeeper scooped up safely.
Yet despite being under the cosh for much of the first period, Reading led at the break. Yiadom battled with Amari'i Bell on the right flank and dispossessed the Blackburn man; his low cross was trapped in the area by Swift, who shifted out of his feet and fired low across goal, nestling inside the far post.
Half-time: Reading 1-0 Blackburn Rovers
Yakou Meïté was introduced at the interval, replacing Sone Aluko, and forcing a reshuffle. Swift stepped in behind the striker, Ejaria dropped into midfield and the sub took up the right-wing berth.
Reading began the half with renewed purpose and drive, and Yiadom's early cross was close to being turned in on the far side by Richards - Ritchie Smallwood nipped it away just in time.
And a Swift corner was met by Meïté's towering header in a crowded box - Raya was fortunate to see it straight at him.
Brereton was wasteful when his opportunity came; a deep cross was collected with a smooth first touch in the area, but with bodies closing him down, the midfielder shanked his shot high over the bar from 10 yards out.
On the hour, Oliveira came close to notching his first Madejski Stadium goal since joining the Royals. Swift's incisive ball between centre-half and full-back set him in on the left, but he couldn't bend it around Raya from the edge of the area.
Midway through the second period, a golden chance went begging for the Reading sub. Ejaria's slide-rule pass bisected the Blackburn back line and found Meïté clean through on goal, but the Ivorian went for power and ended up firing a yard wide of the post.
With the deficit to make up, Rovers weren't lying down and attacked in waves. Centre-half pairing Liam Moore and Matt Miazga were dealing with the aerial threat and the goalkeeper standing strong behind.
A glorious opportunity to double the lead went to waste for the Royals as Swift's pinpoint corner was met by the onrushing Meïté, headed narrowly over the bar.
Just moments later, Reading were made to pay for their wastefulness. Bell went racing away down the left and drilled low and hard, beating Martínez to level things up.
Rovers sub Bradley Dack was close to turning the game on its head a minute later, but his strike from the edge of the box faded off target.
More late drama was to follow - the Royals fans were in raptures as Oliveira's wonderful effort put the home side ahead again with five minutes remaining. Swift launched a ball forward from the edge of his own area, which the forward raced onto, and with the dummy-runs of his teammates opening up the angle he lashed past Raya from the edge of the box.
The nerves were jangling as Rovers loaded the box in the final stages. In the third added minute, a corner was swung in and scrambled mercifully off the line as the lead remained intact.
And so it ended. Three huge points for the Royals.
Full-time: Reading 2-1 Blackburn Rovers
Reading: Martínez, Yiadom, Blackett, Moore (c), Miazga, Kelly (Baker 80), Swift, Ejaria, Richards, Aluko (Meïté HT), Oliveira (Böðvarsson 90).
Unused subs: Walker, Gunter, Harriott, Barrow.
Goals: Swift (45+1), Oliveira (86).
Blackburn Rovers: Raya, Rodwell, Smallwood (Dack 56), Armstrong, Mulgrew (c), Bell, Brereton (Rothwell 68), Travis, Bennett, Conway (Graham 74).
Unused subs: Leutwiler, Reed, Williams, Nyambe.
Goal: Bell (82).
Referee: Mr S Martin
Attendance: 11,271 (635 away)