A FINE strike from Liam Kelly was not enough for Reading to force through victory as Lucas Piazon levelled late on for a Fulham side who played almost the entirety of the game with 10 men.
Kelly’s finish just past the hour mark, matched with 71% of the possession, looked to have been enough for the hosts before former Royal Piazon pounced on an erroneous Joey van den Berg pass to earn Fulham an unlikely point with seven minutes to play.
In a replay of their playoff semi-final only a few months ago, Fulham got off to the worst possible start, going a man down after only 39 seconds.
Defender Tomas Kalas brought down Modou Barrow just outside the box and being the last man was shown a straight red by referee Simon Hooper.
The early dismissal prompted Cottagers boss Slavisa Jokanovic into making an early change, replacing Neeskens Kebano with Denis Odoi.
Royals nearly capitalised on Fulham’s troubles, with Joseph Mendes rising well to powerfully direct a header down low to David Button’s right, and the Fulham keeper did well to tip the ball onto the post and out for a corner.
Tuesday night’s hero Kelly had a shot blocked before spraying wide with another effort as Reading dominated the first half, and it was Kelly who squandered the half’s best chance. Button’s scuffed goal kick was pounced upon by the Irish youngster, who tried to round the keeper but Button recovered to make amends for his mistake.
Former Royal Oliver Norwood came close to snatching the lead for the visitors, forcing Vito Mannone to tip over from 20 yards, in a rare first-half Cottagers venture forward and the score would stay goalless going into the break.
Shortly after the restart John Swift cut in from the left aimed a curling a shot towards the top scorer but Button acrobatically tipped the ball out for a Reading corner as the home signed looked to make their man advantage count.
A smart counter attack from Fulham nearly gave the Cottagers the lead against the run of play when Ryan Sessegnon neatly linked up with Piazon, who back heeled the ball back to the left back but a late Royals interception cut off the move.
Royals finally broke the deadlock on 61 minutes again through Kelly, who netted his third of the season, lashing home from Mendes’ set up following a Barrow cross from the right.
Kelly almost grabbed another straight away, his effort from the left was crisply struck and would have snuck inside the near post but for another solid stop from Button. Royals continued to threaten with Swift seeing his shot deflected over after Mendes missed the scissor kick attempt.
Another clean strike from Norwood, on the volley from distance, was comfortably saved by Mannone at chest height. As the legs of 10 man Fulham began to tire, spaces opened up and Paul McShane fed Barrow down the right but the Gambian had his shot snuffled by Button.
The visitors were then gifted an equaliser when a loose van den Berg pass allowed Piazon to cut through the Royals defence and slot the ball past Mannone.
Despite a flurry of late Reading attacks, Fulham held out for the draw.