Matt Miazga's volleyed finish with just seconds left in second-half added time to earn a hard-fought 1-0 win over 3rd placed Preston North End on Saturday afternoon.
Reading had created more chances in the game against Alex Neil's side, but ultimately couldn't quite find a way through on the day as the points were shared.
Or at least, that was until the final seconds of added time in the second half, when a late corner broke to the American in the box, who volleyed in and gave Mark Bowen a win in his first match in charge of the Royals.
The team news saw the return of John Swift and Jordan Obita to the line-up, while Andy Rinomhota, Lucas Boyé and Lucas João were all unavailable through illness and injury on Saturday afternoon.
The high-flying visitors were quick to try and force the initiative from the off at Madejski Stadium, having the first foray forward when Andy Hughes was picked out on the left flank.
He hung a cross up into the area for David Nugent, but the ball rebounded off his stomach and Rafael was able to gather comfortably.
Reading soon grew into the game, going toe-to-toe with North End, who went into Saturday's game as the Championship's top scorers and without a defeat in the league since mid-August.
Liam Moore, on his 150th appearance for the club, sent a ball over the top for George Pușcaș advancing. He cushioned his touch well, finding space on his left foot and shooting narrowly over Declan Rudd's bar.
Moore was involved again as he won a towering header in midfield, and a cynical foul on Andy Yiadom saw John Swift in a prime shooting position from the resulting free-kick. Swift bent the set piece over the wall, with his top-corner-bound effort clawed away by Rudd.
The resulting corner was recycled and Ovie Ejaria did well to time a sliding challenge and win the ball back 18 yards out. He arrowed a dangerous ball into the six-yard box, but a Reading shirt couldn't meet it from close range and the chance evaporated.
Reading were having the better of it on balance of play midway through the half, but an incisive ball from Nugent set Tom Barkhuizen off on a quick counter-attack. He cut inside, beating Moore but his shot didn't have the required venom to take it past Rafael.
Up the other end, Pelé was quick to pluck a loose ball out of the air and make space for himself to cross. Pușcaș was at full stretch to try and reach it, and he couldn't quite poke it beyond Rudd in the Preston goal.
Reading kept up the pressure and Ejaria was able to stretch a leg and turn his way into a shooting position. Rudd parried away to his left, before play was recycled and Swift was able to pick out his midfield partner once again, with Ejaria having a second bite of the cherry with another effort - but Rudd was there to save again, holding on this time.
It was Reading's half on the balance of play, but they couldn't find the breakthrough their forward play had merited.
Half time | Reading 0-0 Preston North End
The second half started with a Reading corner headed out into the path of Ejaria, whose journey into the box took him past four Preston defenders before being bundled over in the area, but a corner was the verdict from the referee.
Preston showed their attacking nouse themselves, however. Darnell Fisher received it out wide for North End, putting in a dangerous ball for Nugent to head, but Rafael was able to hold on.
Reading maintained the attacking impetus with which they played the first half, and when Yiadom found space on the right, he tried to pick out Pușcaș in the box but Rudd dived to get there first.
Yiadom was a key outlet for Reading on the right flank, managing to wriggle his way into the box as he created the Royals' best chance of the match to that point. He picked out Ejaria 12 yards from goal, whose first-time shot on his weaker foot narrowly flew past the upright.
The best of the play was still going in the Royals' favour, and Yiadom and Swift gained more joy on the right when Swift was able to cross towards Méïté at the far post, whose header was deflected behind and Preston could clear from the resulting corner.
A fresh strikeforce was introduced for the last 20 minutes at Madejski Stadium, with Sam Baldock and Danny Loader brought on to try and find a late winner in RG2.
Play was stopped repeatedly around 15 minutes from time as a multitude of tough tackles flew in at the Madejski, with Michael Morrison bearing the brunt of a clash of heads in midfield and having to be heavily bandaged on the pitch, which took several minutes, but the centre-back was able to carry on.
The match opened up as it headed into the closing stages, with Reading continuing to look the more likely to open the scoring in RG2.
A counter saw Preston opened up by Baldock's surging run and, although he was tackled by Ben Pearson, it opened up for Swift to bend a shot just over the upright.
Time ticked on and, with several injuries to be tended to throughout the half, a total of seven minutes were added on to find a winner.
Both teams went at each other to go for the win, and in the dying seconds, Reading found their way through.
Loader won a corner for the Royals, which Swift swung in. The ball was cleared to Obita, who struck into the crowded box, but the ball eventually broke for Miazga, whose volley had fingertips to it by Rudd, but the ball crept in to earn the Royals three vital points.
Full time | Reading 1-0 Preston North End
Reading: Rafael, Yiadom, Miazga, Morrison, Moore (c), Obita, Pelé (Adam 84), Ejaria, Swift, Méïté (Loader 70), Pușcaș (Baldock 70).
Subs: Walker, McIntyre, Blackett, Richards.
Goals: Miazga (90+7)
Yellow: Obita, Miazga
Preston North End: Rudd, Fisher, Davies, Bauer, Hughes, Pearson, Gallagher (c) (Browne 58), Maguire, Johnson, Barkhuizen (Stockley 69), Nugent (Harrop 58).
Subs: Ripley, Rafferty, Ledson, Potts.
Yellow: Nugent, Pearson
Attendance: 14,135 (1,012 away)
Referee: Mr D Whitestone