JIMMY Kebe’s double ended Sunderland’s three-match unbeaten run as the Black Cats handed Reading’s survival hopes a lifeline, writes Chris Young.
Despite three quick-fire opportunities before Kebe notched a late winner, Sunderland paid the price for a sloppy display where Martin O’Neill’s side continually gifted possession or conceded soft free-kicks.
Kebe took advantage of some dreadful defending to put Reading ahead inside the first seven minutes, during a dire opening from the visitors at the Madejski Stadium.
But Craig Gardner’s spot-kick ensured Sunderland went to the interval on level terms after John O’Shea was needlessly felled by Pavel Pogrebnyak.
Reading remained on top in the second half, but Sunderland had three great chances to win it – Alfred N’Diaye spurning the first and then new signing Danny Graham twice denied after being introduced from the bench.
But it was the Royals who won it with five minutes to go when Kebe headed home Ian Harte’s free-kick from point-blank range.
Deadline day signing Danny Graham was included on the Sunderland bench, as Martin O’Neill named an unchanged side for the third successive game.
There was also a spot among the substitutes for fit-again Danny Rose.
Reading made two changes from the side which drew 2-2 against Chelsea in midweek, with Hope Akpan and Gareth McCleary taking the places of Jem Karacan and Danny Guthrie.
After a tepid start, Reading took the lead with the game’s first meaningful effort of the game in the seventh minute.
Seb Larsson allowed Jobi McAnuff to turn and pull-back a cross from the left-hand touchline which skidded almost at slow motion across the face of Sunderland’s goal.
John O’Shea’s failed to make contact with his attempted interception and the ball fell to Kebe on the back post, who had completely lost the attentions of Jack Colback, stepped inside and slotted high into the roof of the net.
The immediate response from Sunderland was poor, with O’Neill’s side horrifyingly sloppy in possession and simply lofting aimless balls forward.
But out of nothing, Sunderland could have been level in the 24th minute when Alfred N’Diaye held off a couple of Reading players to unleash a low shot from the edge of the area.
Adam Federici managed to push it away low to his left and the Reading keeper was alert to the follow-up as he blocked Seb Larsson’s effort on the rebound.
Five minutes later, Sunderland were level after Pavel Pogrebnyak felled O’Shea from a Sunderland corner with an utterly needless sliding challenge.
Craig Gardner was handed the responsibility from the spot and struck a decisive shot low into the bottom left-hand corner for his sixth of the season from all competitions.
Reading continued to look a threat though and only a splendid save from Simon Mignolet denied the Royals five minutes before the break.
Former Sunderland defender Ian Harte delivered a vicious inswinging free-kick from the right which brushed off the head of Pavel Pogrebnyak, but from point-blank range, Mignolet blocked superbly low to his right.
Federici then denied Sunderland a second in the 44th minute when Stephane Sessegnon pulled the ball back from the left-hand touchline and with Steven Fletcher waiting to head the ball into an empty net, the Reading stopper got a fingertip to the cross to push it away.
HALF-TIME Reading 1 Sunderland 1
Sunderland made a change at the interval with Rose replacing Larsson – a switch which saw Colback move into midfield.
Reading spurned a decent chance in the 54th minute after Mignolet couldn’t hold Harte’s free-kick from 25 yards.
Kebe got to the loose ball on the right-hand by-line and lifted it into the six-yard box, but Alex Pearce couldn’t get clean contact on his header and it drifted harmlessly sideways.
Sunderland enjoyed another let-off in the 75th minute when Harte’s corner from the right had too much pace on it for Mignoloet, who had raced out of his goal in an attempt to punch clear.
Adrian Mariappa met the ball with a looping header, which deflected off Mignolet, onto the top of the crossbar and over.
Graham was introduced with 10 minutes to go, to a roar from the Sunderland fans.
Moments later, N’Diaye should have done much better after playing a one-two with Johnson down the right and receiving a perfectly weighted slide-rule return pass down the right-hand channel of the area.
With a packed penalty area, all N’Diaye needed to do was get it on target, but he smashed it carelessly into the side netting.
Graham almost made an instant impression in the 83rd minute when Johnson lifted a cross to the back post from the right and the £5million man came in unmarked, only to see his header blocked inside the six-yard box by Pearce.
From Johnson’s resulting corner, Graham was close to scoring again, but his header from six yards out was tipped over the top by Federici.
But it was Reading who found the net with five minutes to go when Harte curled in a free-kick from near the right-hand corner flag and Kebe got above Gardner at the far post to head home from two yards out.
FULL-TIME Reading 2 Sunderland 1
READING: Federici, Kelly, Pearce, Mariappa, Harte, Leigertwood, McAnuff, Akpan, Kebe, McCleary (Le Fondre 65), Pogrebnyak (Blackman 72). Subs not used: Shorey, Karacan, Morrison, Guthrie, Taylor. Booked: McAnuff (1)
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet, Gardner, O’Shea, Bramble, Colback, Larsson (Rose 46), N’Diaye, Vaughan (McClean 62), Johnson, Sessegnon (Graham 80), Fletcher. Subs not used: Bardsley, Wickham, Mangane, Westwood. Booked: Gardner (19), Bramble (33), Sessegnon (55)
Attendance: 23,829 (2,171 away)