PAUL Clement hailed the character of his Reading FC players after admitting he had given up the ghost against Stoke City.

Clement was resigned to a second successive Championship defeat after second-half goals from Benik Afobe and Tom Ince put Gary Rowett’s Potters 2-1 up following Marc McNulty’s first-half strike.

However, Clement’s substitutions came up trumps as Yakou Meite set up a dramatic equaliser for Mo Barrow three minutes into time added on.

Royals’ boss confessed: “To score so late means it’s a good point in the end.

“I thought it had gotten away from us, but I’m glad the players didn’t think that way which is the most important thing.

“We pushed really strongly at the end. I put on as many attacking players as I could and we put a few crosses in which flashed across Jack Butland, we just didn’t have anyone in there to finish them off.

“Butland also made a really good save from Yakou Meite but we kept going right to the end.

“When you score that late if feels more than a draw.”

Reading threw a point away at promotion-chasing Leeds on Tuesday when McNulty’s injury-time penalty was saved.

But the striker made amends today with a clinical header from Andy Rinomhota’s cross for his first goal in Reading colours.

Clement added: “We’ve played two of the better sides in the league who are looking to be promoted and we’ve competed against both.

“I was pleased with lots of aspects of our play.

“We started today well and deserved to be ahead, but we faded away and started the second half poorly.

“Please don’t ask me why we concede goals after the break. What do you think I’m doing, telling them to go out and play cr*p?

“I don’t know why it’s happening but it’s certainly not something I’m saying to them.”

He added: “Our shape worked well for the first 15 minutes. Stoke found it difficult to contain Garath McCleary and Danny Loader. We were getting the ball up the pitch really well even if we didn’t have an end product.

“Stoke back into it and we then had difficulty defensively which can happen with that shape because there is more space in wide areas.

“Stoke upped their game in the second half. They were quicker, had more energy and played more intelligently.

“We found it difficult which you could see by the number of changes I made.

“But we stuck at it and kept going.”

Royals boss made three changes to his starting line-up as Liam Moore (calf) and Liam Kelly (illness) were both late withdrawals.

With John O’Shea and Paul McShane also sidelined, Clement’s defence is down to the bare bones.

He explained: “I woke up this morning to a message to say Liam Kelly had been ill overnight. Liam Moore picked up a problem at Leeds and played the whole of the second half with a sore calf.

“He tried to be available for today but it was just too sore.

“Jon O’Shea is a bizarre one. I left him out midweek because of his age and he could get injured in another high-intensity game.

“I put him on the bench and somehow, either during the warm-up or the period he was on the bench, he aggravated his hamstring.

“We’ve gone from four central defenders to one very quickly.

“I thought Tyler Blackett came in and did a good job today and we had young Tom McIntyre on the bench so we have players who can do a job.”