SUPER-SUB Cameron Jerome earned Stoke City their first Barclays Premier League victory of 2013 to maintain tenth spot in the table . . . as they withstood another spirited late fightback from Reading at the Britannia Stadium.
Jerome lashed home an 81st minute strike to give the Potters a two-goal cushion after central defender Robert Huth had broken the deadlock midway through the second half by heading home his first goal of the season from a corner.
But City had to survive some anxious moments in the closing stages after Adrian Mariappa produced a neat near-post finish to reduce the deficit for a Reading side who had earned so many points recently by scoring late goals.
The victory was a first in the Premier League for Tony Pulis’ side since their Boxing Day triumph over Liverpool and kept them in the top half of the table.
Pulis had made one change to the side beaten at Arsenal seven days earlier, preferring not to risk Cameron following his long trip back from international duty, so Kightly was brought into the starting line-up to replace him.
It didn’t take long for the Potters to pose their first threat as Reading were forced to concede a corner after Kightly tried to slip a ball into Etherington breaking forward, only for Pearce to read the situation with a clearance.
It was Etherington who whipped the corner in from the right hand side, but it flashed across the goal with Walters close to getting a touch.
Etherington was the provider again with a cross delivered from a deep position which found Crouch rising on the edge of the six yard box, but he was unable to make clean contact with his header and it drifted well wide of the target.
The pattern of play continued with Etherington once again carving out another opportunity as he lifted another cross into the Reading box where Crouch won the header, but unfortunately it fell behind the incoming Walters.
City’s next threat did, however, come from the opposite flank when Kightly latched onto a flick from Walters and cut inside Harte, but he didn’t strike his left foot shot firmly enough to trouble Federici even though it took a deflection.
The Potters continued to probe down both flanks as they mounted a period of sustained pressure which to Federici making a crucial save.
After Kightly had caused the initial threat, Etherington sent over a corner which the Reading ‘keeper half-cleared with his attempted punch, but he reacted smartly to turn the rebound over the bar when Shawcross hooked it back in.
Federici’s next save was even better, as he dived at full stretch to tip over a volley from Crouch after Kightly’s penetrating run into the box teed up the opportunity for the England striker to bring the ball under control and fire it towards the top corner.
That signalled a spell in which the Potters forced five corners in quick succession, all of them delivered by Etherington from the right, but Reading resisted them all even though Huth had a shot deflected fractionally wide of the post.
Having failed to break the deadlock in the first half, City began the second period in the same fashion by exerting pressure on the Reading defence.
Federici was called upon to push the ball away at full stretch when Whelan whipped a deep cross into the box in the direction of Walters and there were appeals for a penalty waved away when the Republic of Ireland international rose to meet a long throw-in delivered by Wilkinson from the left hand side and appeared to be pushed by Pearce.
Reading made their first change of the afternoon when Le Fondre was introduced in place of Blackman, but it was the Potters who continued to press for an opening as Etherington made room to send over a cross to the near post for the incoming Walters, but his header was deflected wide of the target by the covering Pearce.
Pulis made his first changes of the afternoon when he sent on Jones and Jerome in place of Kightly and Crouch, which lifted the crowd.
It was also brought an immediate response on the pitch as City broke the deadlock midway through the half as Reading finally buckled under the pressure from set-pieces.
After Walters had been denied by a last-ditch clearance in front of goal, the resulting corner saw Huth rise at the far post to powerfully head past Federici following Whelan’s pinpoint delivery from the left hand side.
Reading had the ball in the net when Le Fondre curled his shot into the far corner, but it was all academic as Pogrebnyak had been adjudged to have handled inside the box as he attempted to bring the ball under control.
There was an alarming moment ten minutes from the end when Whelan got caught in possession and Reading had a three-on-one advantage on the counter attack, but Pogrebnyak couldn’t make the most of it after being found by Kebe.
The Royals were made to rue that missed opportunity as Jerome gave the Potters a two-goal cushion with a splendid finish.
A long ball forward from Shawcross was headed straight up in the air by Mariappa and Jerome brought it neatly under control before swivelling to lash a low shot past Federici and into the far corner with nine minutes remaining.
Mariappa soon made up for his mistake when he got in front of his marker to head home at the near post when Harte sent over a corner from the right; Begovic being given no chance with such a powerful finish from the defender.
Reading had their tails up and sensed that they could snatch another result from the jaws of defeat with late goals and there was an anxious moment when they were awarded a free kick on the right hand side for a foul on Kebe.
Dead ball specialist Harte took it with his left foot and aimed for the far corner, but his effort was overhit and flew wide of the upright.
Although Reading felt they should have had a penalty deep into injury time when Le Fondre went down, television replays appeared to show that the referee was right to wave appeals away, and that was the end of the action as City held on to claim a much-needed win.