Stoke City recorded only their second win in their last eleven Premier League matches as they had to soak up a typical late Reading charge for a 2-1 victory at the Britannia Stadium.
A towering Robert Huth header put The Potters ahead after a tepid first half and substitute Cameron Jerome doubled the home side’s lead with less than ten minutes of normal time remaining.
Having denied West Brom, Newcastle and Chelsea with goals late on in their last three matches, Reading threatened to produce another Houdini act as Adrian Mariappa headed home Ian Harte’s corner with seven minutes remaining but despite a late penalty shout from Adam Le Fondre in the dying seconds, Stoke hung on for victory.
A scrappy first half saw Stoke force the issue and create the better chances. But with Reading employing five across the midfield and pressing a high line, Tony Pulis’s men found the visitors a tough nut to crack.
Many of Stoke’s best early chances came via the boot of Matthew Etherington on the left wing, Peter Crouch only inches away from touching home his cross in only the third minute with Steven N'Zonzi cleverly blocking off keeper Adam Federci.
Five minutes later and it was Etherington again who created an even better chance. This time Crouch did get to the cross but Mariappa did just enough to put him off and force the big man to plant his header wide.
Another Etherington cross caused yet more havoc in the Reading box but Crouch’s nod down to Jon Walters was just too short of the striker. Federici was clearly the busier keeper and he had to be alert to deny Ryan Shawcross from one of a number of Stoke corners, tipping the defender’s sliced effort just over the bar. An even better save was required to deny Crouch six minutes before the break, Federici acrobatically tipping over his scissor kick.
Stoke continued to press and forced five successive corners in a frantic finish to the half, the third of which fell invitingly for Huth, only for Ian Harte to react well and clear his goalbound shot off the line.
Stoke continued to dominate possession at the start of the second half and the Etherington boot finally provided the goal from the corner as Huth timed his run perfectly to head home.
Tony Pulis rang the changes, bringing on Kenwyne Jones and Jerome and Brian McDermott responded by bringing on his go to man in the form of Le Fondre. And Le Fondre had the ball in the net with 15 minutes remaining, smashing the ball home from Pogrebnyak’s lay off although his fellow striker was rightly penalised for clearly handling in the build-up.
Five minutes later and Stoke had their second courtesy of a fabulous finish from substitute Jerome, who turned Alex Pearce before rifling past Federici and into the far corner.
Despite the two goal cushion with seven minutes remaining, few dared to write off Reading who have scored a staggering 41 per cent of their goals in the final 15 minutes. And another late salvage act was on the cards when Mariappa headed in from Harte’s corner.
Reading had Pearce to thank for preventing a third, as he stopped Walters from tapping home after Federici palmed Glenn Whelan’s shot into the striker’s path. And Stoke hung on for a victory that sees them close to within a point of ninth placed West Brom.
Reading stay two points clear of the drop zone after Chelsea’s win at home to Wigan.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Matthew Etherington – Stoke: Created chance after chance with his telling crosses and eventually created the opening goal for Robert Huth.
STOKE: Begovic 6, Shotton 6, Shawcross 6, Huth 7, Wilkinson 6, Kightly 6, Whelan 7, Nzonzi 6, Etherington 8, Walters 7, Crouch 5.
SUBS: Cameron 6, Jones 7, Jerome 7.
READING: Federci 6, Kelly 6, Harte 7, Mariappa 7, Pearce 6, Leigertwood 7, Akpan 6, McAnuff 6, Kebe 6, Blackman 6, Pogrebnyak 5.
SUBS: McCleary 6, Le Fondre 7, Hunt 6.