Le Fondre rises to the occasion to save Reading

Reading 1 Stoke City 1

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The Independent Football

Adam Le Fondre has scored goals ever since he began at Stockport County as a 17-year-old, but even after banging in 121 by the age of 24 for County, Rochdale and Rotherham, eyebrows were raised when Reading signed him last season.

Could he do it in the Championship? A dozen goals in their promotion campaign suggested he could, but could he do it in the top flight?

Yesterday Le Fondre finally made his Premier League bow and barely had a kick for 89 minutes. Then, with 24 seconds remaining, he found himself taking a penalty Reading needed to score to avoid suffering a home defeat on their return to the elite. Reading missed five of seven penalties last season but Le Fondre's kick had just enough power and accuracy to beat Asmir Begovic and secure the Royals a point. Whatever happens now, Le Fondre has scored in the Premier League.

For much of the game Stoke had looked well worth the lead given them by their new signing Michael Kightly after 34 minutes following a bad error by Reading's keeper, Adam Federici. But Reading are riding the promotion tide and made a habit of scoring late goals last season.

Garath McCleary arrived as a substitute to transform the pattern of the game and eventually Dean Whitehead brought him down in the box as McCleary ran on to a one-two.

Whitehead, who could easily have been dismissed previously, was given a second yellow card and sent off, Le Fondre dispatched the kick.

"I thought that was the least we deserved," said Reading's manager, Brian McDermott. "I'd have been disappointed not to have got anything, but anyone who has seen us over the last few years knows we keep going and keep going. The point was important psychologically. We know we can compete." Reading play Chelsea on Wednesday.

"I thought we started slowly but after we scored I thought the game was ours," said Stoke's manager, Tony Pulis, "but you can't relax in football, teams will always get chances."

Pulis accepted the decision as one that "could go either way" but will ask Mike Riley, the refereeing chief, to clarify the advantage ruling as Kevin Friend only gave the kick after Noel Hunt had been denied in a scramble that followed Whitehead's foul. "It is a good rule, but it must be consistently applied," he said.

Reading were watched by Anton Zingarevich, the wealthy Russian who bought the club in the summer and had flown in by private jet with his family from Nice. For a long time he and his entourage could have been forgiven for thinking they should have stayed on the Cote D'Azur. Neither side managed a shot on target in the opening half-hour and Reading did not test Begovic until the final 20 minutes. That was with a header from Pavel Pogrebnyak, the owner's compatriot, whose signing on a Bosman was seen as something of a coup given his startling impact on loan to Fulham in the spring.

The Russian, however, looked out of condition and was largely anonymous. It was McDermott's other new recruits, Chris Gunter, Danny Guthrie and especially McCleary, who gave last year's promotion side the added quality required.

Reading began with the buzz all promoted sides should exude, drawing a string of fouls as they ran at Stoke on the flanks and from midfield. Marc Wilson and Andy Wilkinson were fortunate to escape censure but Whitehead was cautioned for tripping Guthrie. The heat sapped Reading's early ardour, though, and Stoke were allowed to play a series of passes in midfield without being pressed, leading to Glenn Whelan being allowed time on the ball 30 yards out to chip a cross into the box. Alex Pearce, under pressure, headed the ball down to Kightly in the area and the new boy's scuffed shot somehow eluded Federici's grasp to squirm into the net.

"He gives us energy and competition," said Pulis, adding: "And being an ex-Wolves player it is good for him to score early for us."

Of Federici's howler, McDermott said. "We all make errors. I make them most days. He's a great character, he works really hard every day, and he has saved us many times. Life is about disappointments. You have to get over them quickly and I'm sure he will."

Reading (4-4-2): Federici; Gunter, Pearce, Gorkss, Harte; McAnuff, Guthrie, Leigertwood, Robson-Kanu (McCleary, 67); Le Fondre, Pogrebnyak (Hunt, 77).

Stoke (4-4-2):Begovic; Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson; Kightly (Jerome, 75), Whitehead, Whelan (Palacios, 84), Etherington (Delap, 80); Walters, Crouch.

Referee: Kevin Friend

Man of the match: McCleary (Reading)

Match rating: 6/10