Reading produced another Houdini escape act to stun Chelsea and snatch a point in a 2-2 draw in the Premier League after coming from two goals behind with three minutes of normal time remaining.
Goals from Juan Mata and Frank Lampard - the latter's ninth of the season - looked to have sealed victory for Rafa Benitez’s men. But the 'never-say-die' attitude of Reading that took them past Newcastle and West Brom in their previous two matches surfaced again as super sub Adam Le Fondre pounced with his ninth and 10th goals of the season to shock the visitors.
The crucial draw for Brian McDermott’s men drags them out of the relegation zone, above Wigan on goal difference, but for Chelsea, Benitez will see it as two points dropped and they remain six points behind second-placed Manchester City.
A dour first half showed no signs of the drama to come. With both teams playing five across the midfield, the opening period was a combative but dull affair.
Benitez opted to start Fernando Torres on his own up front with the in-form Demba Ba surprisingly left on the bench but he saw very little of the ball as the Reading midfield pressed their Chelsea counterparts for time.
Indeed, it was not until half an hour into the match that either side were able to create any chances of note. But with their first sight of goal, the visitors should have gone ahead.
Jobi McAnuff went into the book for fouling a theatrical Oscar and from the resultant free-kick, Lampard found Gary Cahill with a free header from 10 yards out. The central defender should have buried the chance for his seventh goal of the season but his header flew wide of Adam Federici's right hand post.
With Ba looking on helplessly from the bench, the frustrated travelling Chelsea fans vented their anger as Torres smashed a decent half chance out for a throw-in from Oscar’s lay-off after more good build-up work from Mata.
And just as the half looked like it would end with neither side mustering a shot on target, Torres silenced his doubters with a lovely chipped through ball to Mata who drilled his left-footed shot past Federici with the last kick of the half. It was perhaps more than Chelsea deserved for a fairly inept performance but quality showed when it mattered the most.
Their tails up after the opening goal, Chelsea began the second half in control and nearly had a second within 10 minutes of the restart. A superb chipped Lampard through ball was beautifully taken down on his chest by Oscar and his quick turn and shot flew just wide of Federici’s post.
Another slick move saw Chelsea go close again and this time Lampard turned provider, squaring to Oscar in the box. Instead of shooting at goal the Brazilian decided to ship it to Torres and Ian Harte was able to turn behind. But from the resultant corner, Chelsea did have their two-goal advantage, Lampard heading home a thumping header direct from the excellent Mata’s cross.
With Chelsea now seemingly in total command it looked like game over and it was not until the 78th minute that Reading mustered their first attempt on goal, Le Fondre, just on for McAnuff, heading over Ross Turnbull's bar.
Still Chelsea pressed for a killer third and Federici had to be at his best to save Oscar’s shot with his legs after Yossi Benayoun put him clear. Reading were holding on with their fingertips, but just as they did in the remaining five minutes against West Brom, they summoned one last effort.
A lovely through ball from substitute Hope Akpan found Le Fondre with a well timed run and his superb finish gave the home crowd a glimmer of hope. Federici kept that hope alive, clawing away a Ramires drive with time almost up.
And with virtually the last kick of the game, Le Fondre again pulled off a minor miracle, Jimmy Kebe flicking on a long free-kick to Akpan, whose header fell perfectly for the striker to volley home and send the home fans wild.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Adam Le Fondre – Reading: After coming on with just 35 minutes of the game remaining, the super sub was at it again to once again rescue his side with two superb finishes to grab an unlikely point.
READING: Federici 8; Harte 6, Kelly 6, Pearce 7, Mariappa 6; Leigertwood 7, Guthrie, Karacan 6, McAnuff 6, Kebe 7; Pogrebnyak 6. Subs: Akpan 7, McCleary 6, Le Fondre 9
CHELSEA: Chelsea: Turnbull 6, Azpilicueta 5, Cole 6, Cahill 6, Ivanovic 6; Bertrand 5, Ramires 6, Lampard 7, Mata 8, Oscar 7, Torres 6. Subs: Benayoun 6, Ba 6.