Reading stepped back into the Premier League limelight after a four-year absence and ran straight into the mean machine that is Stoke City. In a predictably dour match – for years, Stoke have successfully suffocated and stifled many better opponents – Reading needed a dramatic late equaliser to escape defeat.
Garath McCleary, a jack-in-the-box substitute, drove into the Stoke area in the 89th minute and was felled by Dean Whitehead, who collected a second yellow card – and then red – for his clumsy challenge. Adam le Fondre thumped the spot-kick past Asmir Begovic to rescue a draw and, with a visit to Chelsea on Wednesday, a welcome point. Perhaps it should have been all three, such was Reading's dominance for sustained periods, but it was always an uphill slog after Adam Federici's first-half howler. That Stoke showed such a startling lack of ambition, after being gifted the opener, did not help, either.
Last season, Federici was so often the saviour as Reading secured the Championship title. This time, faced with a rare effort on target by Stoke – a tame mis-hit shot into the ground by Michael Kightly – the Australian goalkeeper went to gather the ball but succeeded only in allowing it to squirm through his grasp.
For Kightly, a £2m summer buy from Wolves, the joy. For Federici, the embarrassment. "We all make errors," Brian McDermott, the Reading manager, said. "I make errors most days. Adam's a great character, he was upset about it, but it's just part of life. I suppose I can't be too disappointed with a point. I thought that was the least we deserved. We kept going, as we always do, even though the temperatures weren't conducive to good football. Stoke have been in the Premier League for a long time so maybe we now know that we can compete [at this level]."
Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, did not contest the penalty, given by Kevin Friend, or the dismissal of Whitehead. "It could have gone either way," Pulis said. "And if the referee has seen it, he has to book Dean, who has already been booked, and has to send him off."
However, Pulis did question the time-lapse between Whitehead's foul and the awarding of the penalty. Friend had tried to play advantage, which resulted in Begovic saving a close-range Le Fondre effort, before going back to point to the spot. "It's a good rule, it gives advantage to the attacking team," Pulis said. "But we have to be consistent. When do you start it? When do you stop?"
Pulis will try to clarify the issue with Mike Riley, general manager of the referees' governing body. Even at this early stage of the season, he may have to join a queue.