THE Reading hoodoo goes on.
Doncaster Rovers have still not beaten the Royals on home soil since 1982 and will have to wait another season to end that rotten record.
But Dean Saunders’ battlers extended their unbeaten run to five matches and gave one of the Championship’s big boys quite a fright last night. They produced all the fighting qualities which will be required in the final 11 matches of the campaign if they are to guarantee survival.
Rovers boss Dean Saunders made two alterations from the side which drew at West Ham. Centre-half Shelton Martis, who hobbled off at Upton Park with a groin problem, missed out so Sam Hird stepped in to play alongside Habib Beye. Hammers loanee Frederic Piquionne, who was ineligible to play against his parent club, returned up front, replacing Mamadou Bagayoko.
Reading fielded an unchanged side as Brian McDermott’s men targeted a ninth successive victory.
The visitors went close to opening the scoring after four minutes when Ian Harte’s corner picked out Alex Pearce unmarked at the back post but his header was cleared off the line by El Hadji Douf.
Rovers searched for an immediate response and Pascal Chimbonda, urged on by the home faithful, had a speculative effort from distance which sailed well over the bar.
Harte, a set-piece specialist, repeatedly caused the hosts problems from dead ball situations. Pearce and Mikele Leigertwood also headed over his left-footed corners as dominated the early exchanges.
But despite being under the cosh for long periods, Rovers refused to buckle and Kyle Bennett raced on to a lovely pass from Diouf, operating in the withdrawn role behind Piquionne, but he dragged his shot well wide.
Jason Roberts and Hal Robson-Kanu missed chances to give Reading the lead and Rovers made them pay by breaking the deadlock on 27 minutes. It was a lovely, flowing move on the right flank involving Chimbonda, James Coppinger and Diouf, whose inviting cross was turned home by Bennett for his second goal in three matches.
Reading, soon to be bankrolled by Russian millionaire Anton Zingarevich, fought back and almost levelled when Noel Hunt latched on McAnuff’s teasing centre only for his header to be superbly kept out by Carl Ikeme and the loose ball was hacked away from the danger zone.
Another rapid break from Bennett saw the first flashpoint of the game on the stroke of half-time. He found the industrious Gillett, who was unceremoniously brought down by the covering Jem Karacan. Home fans claimed Karacan and called for the midfielder to be given his marching orders but the referee dished out just a yellow card.
Six minutes after the re-start, Reading equalised and it inevitably came from a Harte corner as Pearce, at the third time of asking, made no mistake from close range to send the away 500-plus Reading supporters who had travelled north into raptures.
Rovers kept battling and a great diagonal pass from Simon Gillett freed Chimbonda on the right, he played it to James Coppinger, who put Giles Barnes in the clear but his shot drifted just off target.
The contest became a scrappy, cagey affair and clear-cut openings were at a premium for both sides. Beye steered Coppinger’s glorious centre wide despite being well-placed while Hird cleared Pearce’s fierce drive off the line.
The Royals, chasing a fifth successive win over Rovers, piled the pressure on in the latter stages and it took a smart stop from Ikeme to keep out Roberts’ stinging effort. Ikeme also made a terrific stop to deny Hunt as the hosts bravely held on for a point.
ROVERS (4-4-2): Ikeme 8; Chimbonda 7, Hird 7, Beye 6, Spurr 7; Coppinger 6, Gillett 7, Barnes 6, Bennett 7; Diouf 7, Piquionne 6. Substitutes: Oster, Hayter, Lockwood, Robert, Woods.
Reading (4-4-2): Federici 7; Cummings 6, Pearce 7, Gorkss 7, Harte 7; McAnuff 6, Karacan 6 (Tabb 64), Leigertwood 6, Robson-Kanu 6 (Le Fondre 64); Hunt 6, Roberts 7. Substitutes: Church, Anderson, Cywka.
Goals: Bennett 27, Pearce 51
Bookings: Rovers; Beye 61, Diouf 90. Reading; Karacan 45, Hunt 52, Gorkss 56
Referee: Tony Bates (Staffs)