After amassing a total of 151 goals, the scoring touch deserted Leeds and Reading when they needed it most.
Their second barren stalemate between them this season left the Yorkshire club outside the play-off places on goal difference, while the visitors, who were chasing a ninth successive win, remain fourth, four points adrift of second-placed Norwich City.
For Leeds it was an evening to rue the vagaries of Championship goalkeeping. A dreadful error by Leicester's Chris Weale had earlier gifted Nottingham Forest the victory that squeezed Simon Grayson's side out of the top six for the first time since November. Injury deprived Leeds of the 20-goal Luciano Becchio, but club captain Richard Naylor made his first start in six months at centre-back. Reading were also without a key player, Jimmy Kébé, yet began confidently as they strove to claw back the advantage gained by Norwich in their rout of Ipswich on Thursday night.
Leeds fell foul of a commanding display by Alex McCarthy, Reading's England Under-21 international.
The 6ft 5in McCarthy, playing only his 13th game for his parent club after six loan spells in the lower divisions and non-League football, showed why the Reading manager Brian McDermott decided to stick with him despite the return to fitness of Adam Federici. Having made a stunning one-handed save from Robert Snodgrass's header late in the first half, he repeated the feat from a similar effort by the Scot with three minutes left.
In between, McCarthy twice kept out scorching drives by Max Gradel, and when he was beaten, by Bradley Johnson midway through the second half, the midfielder's shot clipped the crossbar. "We couldn't have done much more than we did," said Grayson. "We worked him, we tested him but he's decent keeper. He must be because they had a good one on the bench."
The Leeds manager was justifiably encouraged by his team's second-half showing. Despite a run that has seen them take only two points from four matches at a crucial stage of the season, they emerged with credit against opponents Grayson termed "a very good team". He added: "Scoring goals hasn't been a problem for us, but we didn't have the rub of the green this time. If we can carry on that level of performance, we can do well in the last three games."
McDermott, who seemed to be understating the case when he described McCarthy as a "really good young keeper", hailed a "great shift" by his players as they strove to claw back ground on Norwich following the East Anglian derby. Automatic promotion is certainly not beyond Reading, whose run-in pits them against Sheffield United, Derby County and Coventry City. "I vowed to myself when I took over that we'd try to win every game," said the former Arsenal player. "We're going to stick to that."
Leeds, according to McDermott's view, were fortunate to have 11 men on the pitch in the second half. Jake Livermore, who supplied the cross for the 37th-minute header that McCarthy tipped over with a strong hand, was cautioned for fouling Jobi McAnuff and then cut down Jem Karacan, only for the referee Eddie Ilderton to resist the second booking. Richard Naylor, starting in defence for the first time in six months, also escaped in similar circumstances before half-time after tugging Shane Long's shirt shortly after he received a yellow card.
Leeds United (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel; Connolly, Naylor, O'Brien, Lichaj; Johnson, Livermore (Kilkenny, h-t); Snodgrass, Howson (Watt, 81), Gradel; Paynter (Somma, 81). Substitutes not used Higgs (gk), Bannan, Bromby, McCormack.
Reading (4-4-2): McCarthy; Griffin, Mills, Khizanishvili, Harte; McAnuff, Karacan, Leigertwood, Robson-Kanu (Manset, 81); Hunt (Church, 70), Long. Substitutes not used Federici (gk), Tabb, Antonio, Howard, Pearce.
Referee E Ilderton (Tyne & Wear).Reuse content