They had won their previous four matches 1-0 but could not even muster the solitary goal which would surely have seen off a Brighton side who are hardly prolific themselves.
With Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson sidelined it was left to Austin to shoulder the goalscoring burden.
And the fact Rangers ended the night with Armand Traore joining the attack showed why Redknapp wants to bring in another striker on loan.
Moments later Gordon Greer's dreadful pass along the edge of the area almost let in Gary O'Neil but Matt Upson managed to clear the danger.
Rangers lost defender Nedum Onuoha to injury midway through the first half paving the way for Benoit Assou-Ekotto to make his debut from the bench.
The Tottenham loanee almost made an instant impact when he overlapped and crossed for Austin but although the striker turned smartly, he could not hit the target.
Winger Matt Phillips, making his full Rangers debut, was next to try his luck but his angled drive flew narrowly over.
Then came two chances in a minute for Austin - who was mightily relieved to see an offside flag after somehow dragging the first one wide from all of three yards out.
Moments later he met Barton's corner with a firm header but planted it straight at goalkeeper Tomasz Kusczcak.
Brighton showed little ambition in the first half, with a couple of long-range efforts from Keith Andrews the closest they came.
It was more of the same after the interval with Barton forcing a fine save from Kusczcack with one curling free-kick and seeing another bounce inches wide after taking a deflection which left the Seagulls keeper stranded.
Kuszczak was beaten when Phillips nodded the ball over him during an almighty goalmouth scramble but Greer was on hand to hack the ball off the line.
Their final chance came on the stroke of full-time when Richard Dunne headed Barton's free-kick over and Brighton escaped with a point.
Brian McDermott's return to Reading was not a happy one as Adam Le Fondre, one of the players he signed, gave the Royals a 1-0 win over Leeds.
Stephen Warnock had been sent off for conceding the free-kick and from it, Royston Drenthe found Le Fondre who undid his old boss.
McDermott - sacked by Reading in March after more than 12 years at the club, mostly as chief scout but also as a title-winning manager - received a warm welcome back from the home fans, as did former striker Noel Hunt.
The pair had nothing to celebrate, though, as Nigel Adkins' Royals got a win they just about deserved.
The home side recovered from a poor start, though, with midfielder Jem Karacan carried off on a stretcher after just nine minutes, appearing to twist his right knee when unfairly challenging Ross McCormack.
It carried unfortunate shades of the past for the midfielder for it was against Leeds in April 2012 that he broke his ankle.
Rodolph Austin fired over the free-kick that Karacan had conceded and, with Hope Akpan getting early action from the bench, Reading took a while to regroup. When they had done, Paddy Kenny saved superbly from a 20-yard piledriver from Danny Williams.
Hal Robson-Kanu also tested Kenny from distance and, again, the Leeds goalkeeper was up to the task. But the game became increasingly scrappy, with Reading picking up bookings for Danny Guthrie and Alex Pearce for clumsy fouls.
Little was seen of a lightweight Leeds attack, either from Hunt or Luke Varney. They did, though, have scant support from midfield or elsewhere. When Varney did find space, he launched a weak effort at Alex McCarthy in the home goal.
Austin's 25-yard attempt carried a lot more power but lacked direction as it thundered into a stanchion behind the net. Reading replied with carbon-copy Sean Morrison headers from free-kicks - the first from Danny Guthrie, the second from Drenthe - but he nodded both set-pieces high and wide.
Amazingly, Morrison got another chance early in the second half, this time from a Drenthe corner, but the result was the same. He failed to get over the ball and nodded wildly wide.
Leeds sat back unadventurously, as they had done for large portions of the first half, but at last got going when Hunt drove tenaciously for the byline. But he ran out of room and McCarthy comfortably gathered his cross.
Soon after, Hunt was replaced by Dominic Poleon.
Reading upped the ante again when a Nick Blackman drive seemed goalbound until it took a deflection off Warnock.
Robson-Kanu then squandered the best opening of the match when he chose to shoot from 20 yards instead of passing to team-mate Blackman, who was unmarked. Robson-Kanu blazed over and Blackman shook his head in dismay.
It had looked like a draw would be played out at that stage, but when Warnock tripped Le Fondre for a second yellow, Drenthe's free-kick was flicked on and Le Fondre did the rest.