Reading's wait for a first Premier League win of the season goes on but there was a collective sense of relief and renewed determination in these parts after a late strike from Hal Robson-Kanu rescued a point for the hosts in a game of startling late drama.

Three goals in the last five minutes of play swung the contest this way and that, and at the end of it all, after everyone had regained their breath, Reading could reflect on a draw that sees them remain in the relegation zone but shows they at least have the stomach for the stern challenge of ensuring they do not slip out of the top flight at the first time of asking.

For Fulham there was little else but frustration. The visitors appeared to have secured the victory that would have seen them climb into the top four when Dimitar Berbatov gave them the lead for the second time in the match with a low right-foot shot on 88 minutes, but Martin Jol's men could not hold on and allowed Robson-Kanu, on as a substitute, to sweep home after Fulham's defence had failed to clear Nicky Shorey's free-kick. The collective angst in the visitors' ranks was obvious, particularly so as similar careless defending had allowed another substitute, Garath McCleary, to get Reading back to 2-2 only five minutes earlier.

"There was no purpose to our game in the first half, but the second half was a different story," Jol said. "We had good movement, created chances, and if you score three goals against a team like Reading you should win. I thought it [Berbatov's goal] was the winner. A couple of weeks ago we did the same thing against Southampton – they scored in the final minute. Maybe we need to be more clever."

That could be perceived to be a harsh judgment given Fulham sit sixth, only a point behind the Champions League places, and having performed this season with an impressive level of composure and class.

Indeed they have now scored as many goals, 19, as the leaders Chelsea and will remain a threat to most sides should Berbatov continue to put in such high-level displays. The Bulgarian was his typical languid self here, barely breaking out of walking pace at times, but his control and movement of possession from an unusually deep position was captivating and a constant threat.

Bryan Ruiz also shone having come on as a 58th-minute substitute, putting Fulham on level terms with a rasping, dipping shot from the edge of the area just after the hour mark. It was from his 77th-minute corner that Chris Baird made it 2-1 with a near-post header, the midfielder's second goal in two games, and at that stage it appeared Fulham were to be rewarded for an energetic and positive second-half display having, as Jol stated, lacked purpose before the break.

During that period it had been Reading who played with more intent and, after the former Fulham striker Pavel Pogrebnyak had missed with a close-range header, they took the lead on 26 minutes through Mikele Leigertwood's precise right-foot shot from outside the area. The hosts were required to show even more thrust during the dramatic closing stages.

"I thought we were going to win at the end," said Brian McDermott, whose side remain without a clean sheet as well as a victory this season. "But at 3-2 down, with the clock ticking, I guess you have to take the point.

"People will talk about the [first] win but we just have to keep playing the game. I'm proud of the group, they deserve a lot of respect for what they've achieved and I have no doubt they'll get that win soon enough. We're going to be OK."