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Full-time: Reading 0 Blackburn Rovers 1
A FIRST goal for the club from full debutant Craig Conway earned Rovers a vital victory which moved them up to ninth in the Championship and within four points of the play-offs and their sixth-placed opponents.
Conway, an arrival on the final day of the January transfer window from Cardiff City, put the finishing touch to a rapid breakaway in the 36th minute to earn Gary Bowyer’s side a deserved and huge win.
In-form Reading, unchanged for the eighth match running, created the first chance of a tight first half five minutes in.
On a difficult pitch Tommy Spurr lost possession on the left touchline to Pavel Pogrebnyak.
The Russian striker raced forward before playing the ball out wide to the right and to Jobi McAnuff, who cut inside only to side-foot tamely at Paul Robinson.
Rovers had more of the ball in the opening stages but it was not until the 26th minute that they threatened the Royals’ goal as Rudy Gestede showed strength to hold off his marker before firing wide from 22 yards.
Ten minutes later, however, they were in front thanks to their new Scottish winger.
The goal came from a Jordan Obita free kick at the other end of the field that was blocked by the Rovers wall and then cleared.
McAnuff raced back in an attempt to win back possession but his back header was under hit and that enabled Jason Lowe to play the ball into the path of Rhodes.
The striker spotted Conway on his outside but just as he was about to pass, he was challenged by Kaspars Gorkss.
The ball, however, still found its way to the marauding Conway who took a touch before unleashing a left-footed shot that was heading toward the far corner before it hit the hapless McAnuff and deflected past Alex McCarthy.
Reading, chasing their sixth win in eight games, were rocking and McCarthy was forced into a fantastic flying stop after Rhodes spun and sent in a superbly struck half-volley from 20 yards.
McCarthy then made an easier save from Rhodes, the Rovers top scorer’s flicked header from a Conway cross going straight into the hands of the Royals goalkeeper, before Robinson turned a cross-shot from Obita around his post at the other end.
The visitors, who lost Tom Cairney to an ankle injury which will require a scan on Monday, started strongly after the restart too.
The recalled Lee Williamson showed strength and skill to play in Conway, who waited patiently for the overlap from Tommy Spurr.
The left-back’s side-footed low cross was a good one but neither Rhodes nor Gestede gambled.
Nigel Adkins responded by making a triple substitution.
And the Reading boss was nearly rewarded when one of his replacements – Royston Drenthe – dragged wide after a cross from Obita was allowed to make its way to the back post.
The hosts were turning up the pressure and they had an appeal for a penalty turned down after Matt Kilgallon seemingly handled the ball on the ground in the box.
Rovers, though, nearly doubled their advantage in the 73rd minute when Conway’s 20-yard free kick, awarded after Danny Guthrie’s late lunge on Cairney’s replacement Chris Taylor, curled inches past the post.
Moments later former Real Madrid and Everton winger Drenthe blasted a 20-yard effort on to the roof of the net after he cut inside on to his right foot.
As well as the five second-half substitutions there were a number of stoppages, leading to a nerve-jangling nine minutes to be added on at the end of normal time.
Resilient Rovers, however, refused to be beaten, despite the referee adding a further two minutes.
Reading: McCarthy, Gunter, Gorkss, Pearce, Obita, McCleary (Drenthe 63), Akpan (Guthrie 63), Williams, McAnuff, Le Fondre, Pogrebnyak (Robson-Kanu 63). Subs not used: Federici, Kelly, Blackman, Hector.
Booked: McAnuff, Obita, Guthrie.
Rovers: Robinson, Henley, Hanley, Kilgallon, Spurr, Cairney (Taylor 59), Lowe, Williamson, Conway, Rhodes, Gestede (Varney 78). Subs not used: Eastwood, Kane, Dunn, Olsson, Evans.
Booked: Lowe, Varney, Williamson, Taylor.
Goal: Conway 36.
Referee: Graham Scott.
Attendance: 18,858 (854 away).