BARNSLEY goalkeeper Luke Steele had an afternoon to remember as his TWO penalty saves went a long way towards helping his side secure their first victory of the season.
The win was a real coupon-buster for the Reds who went into the game at the Madejski Stadium in miserable form, having lost three back-to-back games at Oakwell.
However, the form book was turned on its head after Steele and his team-mates repelled almost all the Royals could throw at them as they headed back up north with three much-needed points.
“I’m a bit disappointed Luke didn’t keep a clean sheet to be honest,” joked Reds boss Keith Hill after watching Steele oncede a third penalty shortly after Matt Done’s killer second goal.
“But seriously the goalkeeper deserves his reward today, it was a great performance. We’ve come a long way to get this result, but I’ll accept it.”
As if Barnsley’s task wasn’t tough enough at the rain-soaked Madejski, plans were then thrown right up into the air shortly before kick-off when holding midfielder Miles Addison had to be helped from the field with a muscle strain.
Addison was out with less than half-an-hour to go before the whistle, with club skipper Bobby Hassell stepping up from the bench. Goran Lovre took Hassell’s place among the substitutes.
Otherwise Matt Done was installed in place of Nathan Doyle, who dropped out of the 16 altogether, while Craig Davies was back in up front after featured as a midweek substitute during defeat to Middlesbrough.
The Royals began the game encouragingly enough after their midweek reverse at Portsmouth, and after less than a minute skipper Jobi McAnuff was allowed too much time and space before firing a shot straight at Steele.
Jem Karacan headed just wide, and already it was looking grim for the Reds who looked short of inspiration in the early stages.
The tide began to turn just before the half-hour mark though. Davies tested Adam Federici from distance, before the visitors took a shock lead.
And it was a simple enough opening goal from the Reds as centre-back Stephen Foster charged into the box to powerfully head home Jacob Butterfield’s in-swinging corner-kick.
That handed the Reds a very welcome interval lead, but the real drama began shortly after the restart.
Jimmy Kebe had already seen a curling cross bounce out off the top of the Barnsley crossbar, before referee Brendan Malone had no hesitation in awarding a penalty after Jay McEveley tripped the Reading wide-man.
The normally reliable Ian Harte stepped up, but Steele dived down to his left superbly and beat the spot-kick away.
The Reds were still buzzing when, just two minutes later, McEveley was this time harshly adjudged to have hauled back Hal Robson-Kanu, and a second penalty was the outcome.
Surely lightning couldn’t strike twice? But it did as this time Steele dived to the same corner to thwart Noel Hunt.
The Reds punished the hosts in the perfect fashion by scoring a second goal shortly after as the impressive Butterfield fed Done who raced clear before tucking neatly past Federici.
Surely that would be enough, but unbelievably a third penalty went to Reading as Rob Edwards upended Kebe, and this time Robson-Kanu stepped up to finally beat hero Steele.
This gave Reading renewed hope with still 17 minutes left to play, but the Reds deservedly hung on for a superb victory and should have extended their lead in the dying moments.
Davies brought a terrific save out of Federici, then just before the final whistle sub Andy Gray powered in a point-blank header which the hosts’ keeper reacted miraculously to save.
It was a miserable afternoon for last season’s play-off finalists, and their manager Brian McDermott.
He groaned: “It is very unusual for a team to get three penalties in one half and still lose, but it wasn’t to be for us. “By the end we’d had enough chances to have won three games, but that’s what happens if you don’t finish – you lose.”
Keith Hill’s view
My opposite number Brian McDermott knows exactly how much pressure there is to be successful in this division.
That’s difficult and it has been a difficult start for me this season.
There shouldn’t be all that pressure on managers, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”