Two late goals from Derby County cancelled out Junior Hoilett’s brace as Reading threw away victory in a massive game in the context of the Championship relegation battle.

Hoilett gave the Royals the lead with a stunning curling effort in the first half before doubling the lead from close range in the second. But just as Reading seemed destined for a huge win, Colin Kazim-Richards and Curtis Davies struck late to break hearts in Berkshire.

Veljko Paunovic made two changes from the team that was beaten by West Brom last time out, John Swift and Junior Hoilett replacing Dejan Tetek and Liam Moore – the captain missing out through injury.

After a break of more than three weeks due to waves of Covid outbreaks in the first team and U23 squads, Reading still found themselves without a number of senior players, leaving room for 17-year old academy graduate Tyrell Ashcroft to make his second consecutive start.

Despite their lengthy hiatus from Championship action, Reading were the team who started on top looking reenergised as they buzzed around the pitch aiming to spring their attacking players in behind Derby’s rather ancient centre-back pairing. Hoilett nearly broke through before Alen Halilovic had a shot blocked.

The visitors began to build their way back into the game and Max Bird saw a speculative effort fired well over the bar in the 16th minute.

It was Reading who created the first real clear-cut opportunity of the match just moments later. Swift’s cross found Andy Carroll at the back post and when the striker’s downward header wasa saved, it seemed certain that Baba Rahman would tap into the open net – only for some last-ditch defending to deny the Chelsea loanee.

Luke Southwood was forced into his first save of the contest 15 minutes before half-time when he got down quickly at his near post to keep out a deflected effort from Luke Plange.

Just when Derby seemed to be taking control of the game, Reading grabbed the lead in spectacular fashion in the 37th minute. Making his first start in three months, Hoilett lacthed onto an Andy Caroll flick-on before cutting inside and firing a stunning curling effort into the top corner.

Plange then headed a half-chance over the bar before Andy Carroll nearly robbed Allsop in the Derby net as the game reached a frenetic pace in the final few moments of the first half.

It was the visitors who started the second period on top, working the ball out to Nathan Byrne whose dangerous cross couldn’t quite find a Derby player.

The Rams very nearly made their pressure count when Tom Lawrence was denied by a terrific Luke Southwood save and the stop looked even more important moments later when Reading doubled their lead.

Scorer of the first with a brilliant shot from distance, Hoilett grabbed his and his side’s second with a much scrappier effort. Tom Holmes headed on a free-kick and the winger was on hand to chest it down and toe-poke home with a touch off Allsop in the Derby goal.

Two goals down Derby pressed in order to find a route back into the game and finally did get a lifeline with three minutes to go. Southwood came for a looping cross but let it slip through his fingers for Colin Kazim-Richards to prod over the line.

And as the game entered stoppage time, disaster struck as Derby made it 2-2. A cross from Byrne found Curtis Davies in the box and he headed firmly into the bottom corner to give Southwood no chance.

From 2-0 up to 2-2 in a matter of three minutes, the spoils shared in a hugely disappointing afternoon for Reading who seemed destined for victory.

READING FC XI: Southwood; Baba Rahman, Dann, Holmes, Ashcroft (Araruna 46’); Dele-Bashiru, Laurent; Hoilett, Swift, Halilovic (Azeez 65’); Carroll