Three goals in five minutes for Romanian forward George Pușcaș saw a spirited Royals side come from behind to beat Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium.
It was threatening to be a difficult afternoon for the Royals when Joe Garner got onto a rebound to put the Latics ahead in the first half.
But Lucas Boyé won Reading a spot-kick late on, which Pușcaș converted, before the forward added two more in the blink of an eye to convert a potential defeat into a brilliant win.
The Royals were without midfield duo John Swift and Ovie Ejaria going into the game, who missed out on selection through injury and illness respectively. In stepped Garath McCleary and Pelé, as well as Andy Yiadom who returned from suspension in place of Chris Gunter.
After a few early forays for Wigan, the Royals’ first opportunity came down the left flank as Omar Richards picked off a pass and laid in George Pușcaș. The Romanian slotted through to McCleary, who was unselfish as he looked to find Yakou Méïté rather than shoot, but his low delivery was cut out.
Wigan’s first effort of note forced a flying stop from Rafael. Anthony Pilkington spun onto a throw from Dujon Sterling and walloped a half-volley, which was dipping under the bar until the Brazilian palmed over.
Latics defender Charlie Mulgrew was shown the first yellow of the afternoon as he cynically bumped down Méïté as the forward raced down the Royals right. And just after the quarter-hour mark, he could count himself fortunate to not be shown a second, lunging into another challenge on Méïté but missing the ball.
As the half wore on, the balance of play was beginning to swing Reading’s way but that opener was still proving evasive. Méïté bustled his way inside off the right and shot fiercely from the edge of the box, but into David Marshall’s grateful arms.
And when Marshall was beaten, Pilkington was in the right place. Pelé was on corner duty and picked out Pușcaș, whose scuffed half-volley was taken off target by the head of the Wigan man.
Opportunities missed came back to bite the Royals, as the hosts went ahead. Pilkington’s corner was met by Chey Dunkley, forcing a reaction save from Rafael, but Garner was first to the follow-up to slam in from close-range.
Looking for a reply, Reading had powerful efforts from Omar Richards and Pelé blocked in turn. Wigan, meanwhile, tried to extend their lead further as Josh Windass charged in to volley a deep cross from Garner, skewing narrowly past Rafael’s near post.
On the stroke of half-time, Richards’ deep free-kick was nodded back across the face of goal by defender Michael Morrison, but Pușcaș steered his header a matter of inches wide in a congested box.
Half-time: Wigan Athletic 1-0 Reading
Reading began the second half on the front foot and had the Latics penned back. The first opening of note came as Méïté flicked on for Pușcaș, who released McCleary with an early ball. The angle didn’t favour the Royals forward, who aimed for the far corner but shot wide.
Wigan skipper Sam Morsy couldn’t find the target as he bustled into the area, and Reading’s frustration in front of goal grew further as Méïté’s rocket of a free-kick struck teammate Matt Miazga on the head, leaving him down and in need of treatment.
Lucas João, who completed an hour for the Under-23s in midweek, was introduced for the final half-hour – an attacking switch as defender Morrison made way. Lucas Boyé joined him soon after, replacing Méïté.
Boyé was involved heavily as the Royals looked to get level and some terrific combination play down the left with Richards allowed him to tee up Puscas, but his effort was driven over as bodies swarmed in.
But then – the turnaround, through sheer tenacity and drive and three moments of magic from Pușcaș. Boyé, with some magical footwork in the area, drew a hefty challenge in the box – after a moment’s hesitation, referee. Jeremy Simpson pointed to the spot. Pușcaș stepped up and hammered in – Reading level.
A minute later, Reading were ahead and it was Pușcaș again. Yiadom slid a ball through for the Romanian, who rolled his marker and kept the coolest head in an icy DW Stadium to slot past Marshall to turn the game on its head in the blink of an eye.
And Pușcaș had a five-minute hat-trick when McCleary caught Morsy in possession in midfield and delivered an early cross for Pușcaș who, teeming with confidence, side-footed into the net.
The rest of it was a professional procession. Solid defending and a will to attack - holding onto the two-goal lead, and with it, the three points.
Full-time: Wigan Athletic 1-3 Reading
Wigan Athletic: Marshall, Robinson, Macleod, Morsy (c), Pilkington (Lowe 65), Windass (Gelhardt 86), Garner, Sterling, Mulgrew, Jacobs (Naismith 65), Dunkley.
Unused subs: Jones, Massey, Moore, Kipre.
Goal: Garner (34).
Reading: Rafael, Yiadom, Richards, Moore (c), Morrison (João 61), Miazga, Rinomhota, Pelé (Adam 77), McCleary, Méïté (Boyé 66), Pușcaș.
Unused subs: Walker, Gunter, Boyé, Loader, Blackett.
Goals: Pușcaș (79 pen, 80, 84)
Attendance: 8,965 (573 away).
Referee: Mr J Simpson