READING saw their eight-game Championship winning run come to an end as they were held to what could be a vital draw for a spirited Doncaster.
The Royals had blitzed all that had come before them in recent weeks as they surge towards the Premier League, but they were came up against a Rovers side fighting to stay in the division at the other end.
And it was Dean Saunders’ side that took the lead midway through the first half when Kyle Bennett put the finishing touch on El-Hadji Diouf’s lead-up work, finishing a fine team move.
It would have been an injustice had the visitors been defeated, though, as they had missed three glaring chances before Diouf’s goal and Alex Pearce, who missed two of them, finally bagged by heading Ian Harte’s corner home shortly after the break to level.
Both sides could have won it as Giles Barnes went close for the home side and Pearce was again denied for Reading, but it ended all square.
Still, the point was enough for Brian McDermott’s side to move into the automatic promotion places and they look a good bet to be celebrating come the end of April, while Rovers remain unbeaten in five and are now three points adrift of safety.
The hosts returned to the Keepmoat on the back of an impressive four-point haul from back-to-back away games at Nottingham Forest and West Ham, while Reading arrived in simply irresistible form with eight wins on the bounce.
It was the Royals that could have taken an early lead, but Diouf was an unlikely hero as he cleared Pearce’s powerful header from Harte’s corner off the line.
Harte’s deliveries were causing chaos in the Rovers six-yard box in the opening 15 minutes and Pearce unbelievably missed another chance from three yards before Mikele Leigertwood also headed over with goalkeeper Carl Ikeme stranded.
Doncaster could easily have been three down, but with their first real opening they took a surprise lead in the 27th minute and it was a superb team goal.
The hosts expertly manoeuvred the ball out to the right, where Diouf played a one-two with James Coppinger and the Senegal international whipped in a low cross which Bennett met at the far post to prod home.
That goal galvanised Rovers and they were enjoying a good spell in the lead up to half-time, but they had to be thankful to Ikeme’s agility to keep them in the advantage with two fine saves.
First he scooped away Noel Hunt’s downward header and then he kept out a low Jem Karacan effort as the half-time whistle could not come soon enough for Rovers.
It was only a matter of time until Reading made one of Harte’s delicious deliveries count and they finally did so six minutes after the restart when a deep corner was met by Pearce, who made no mistake from five yards out.
Rovers were in no mood to lie down, though, as they twice went close to restoring their lead through Frederic Piquionne’s header and Barnes’ volley.
Doncaster continued to look the more likely to score again and Habib Beye glanced his header wide after good wing play by Coppinger.
However, the inevitable Reading onslaught came in the final 15 minutes and Pearce was denied again as Sam Hird cleared off the line before Jason Roberts, Hunt and Kaspar Gorkss all went close.
Doncaster Rovers (4-4-2): Ikeme; Chimbonda, Hird, Beye, Spurr; Coppinger, Gillett, Barnes, Bennett; Diouf, Piquionne. Substitutes: Oster, Hayter, Lockwood, Robert, Ilunga.
Reading (4-4-2): Federici; Cummings, Pearce, Gorkss, Harte; McAnuff, Karacan, Leigertwood, Robson-Kanu; Hunt, Roberts. Substitutes: Tabb, Le Fondre, Church, Anderson, Cywka.
Read Dominick Howson’s analysis in tomorrow’s Star.