READING FC were denied a rare away win in a relegation six-pointer by a sickening 90th minute Rotherham United equaliser.

Caretaker boss Scott Marshall was moments away from celebrating a memorable victory thanks to Sam Baldock’s ninth-minute strike.

But Royals’ soft underbelly was exposed once again during a frenetic finale that saw Joe Mattock level from a goalmouth scramble.

It was bitterly disappointing for Marshall’s men and particularly 20-year-old Tom McIntyre on his league debut.

The Scotland Under 20 international deserved a clean sheet after being called up as a replacement for Tiago Ilori – now one of four injured centre-backs next to Liam Moore, John O’Shea and Paul McShane.

But more agonising were the chances Reading squandered in the first half which could have put the game to bed.

The draw lifted Reading out of the Championship relegation zone on goal difference, but it will feel like two points dropped rather than one gained.

Reading – who hope to appoint a new manager next week – are now without a league win in six and have won just once in 19 away fixtures.

They have picked up a mere four victories in 22 games this season and would have leapfrogged their hosts with three points today.

However, Paul Warne’s Millers are the draw specialists, this their 10th in the last 13 games with only one defeat at New York Stadium this campaign.

Marshall made three changes from the side that lost 2-0 at home to Sheffield United.

McIntyre – one of five Academy players in the squad – came in for Ilori in a centre-back partnership with Tyler Blackett.

John Swift and Baldock were both recalled as Danny Loader dropped to the bench and Marc McNulty missed out altogether.

¬Another Academy defender Gabe Osho was on the bench that included a fit-again striker Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Dave Edwards after a long battle with injury.

It was a line-up few would have predicted, but Marshall’s men started the match strongly and saw Baldock head over at the near post from Andy Yiadom’s cross in the second minute.

Anssi Jaakkola carefully watched an Anthony Ford effort from 20 yards drift wide at the other end, but parity only lasted nine minutes after Baldock’s opener.

Josh Sims, booked for an apparent dive moments earlier, threaded a pass through to Baldock who beat the offside trap before firing past Marek Rodak for his fifth of the season and the first scored under Marshall.

Rotherham hit back as Richard Towell’s shot was held by Jaakkola, Jon Taylor headed over and Michael Smith fired wide all in a three-minute spell.

Yet the Millers’ defence wobbled again when Swift powered into the area only to miss the target with 19 minutes gone.

A couple of long-rangers from Will Vaulks failed to trouble Jaakkola soon after.

Baldock then wasted a glorious chance to double the visitors’ lead on 33 minutes.

Jaakkola found McCleary who sent Swift to the bye-line where he pulled it back for Baldock, only for the striker to lift his shot over from barely six yards out.

Another clear-cut opportunity came four minutes later when Baldock left Swift one-on-one with Rodak who made a superb save with his legs.

Reading Chronicle:

Caretaker manager, Scott Marshall.

Marshall’s men continued to attack and a better first touch from Garath McCleary may have produced a different result after Swift put him away, a rushed effort in the end comfortably parried by Rodak.

So Royals, who could have been two or three goals to the good, went into the break with a fragile lead.

And their vulnerability in the second half reappeared again with Jaakkola making a decent save to deny Towell before Semi Ajayi sent a header over from a good position.

Millers were also cursing their luck when a goal-bound drive from Vaulks hit a team-mate in the Reading area, while Smith should have done better with a header from a precise Mattock centre just after the hour mark.

Royals survived that sticky patch and began to threaten again.

And they were only denied a second by the foot of the post in the 69th minute, Sims the unlucky player with a shot from a tight angle after being teed up by the impressive Swift.

A minute later Jaakkola was thankful a Vaulks thunderbolt flew straight at him rather than anywhere else, then Royals keeper denied Ajayi before Vaulks screwed the follow up wide, much to the visitors’ relief.

Marshall gave Bodvarsson a run out with 11 minutes remaining then saw Leandro Bacuna’s curling effort from the top of the box bounce a yard the wrong wide of Rodak’s far post.

Reading, though, were soon hanging on as Rotherham threw everything at them in the final minutes.

It took some resolute, last-ditch defending from full-backs Chris Gunter and McIntyre to preserve their lead.

Gunter scrambled the ball away in front of his own goal to prevent a simple tap-in for Smith five minutes from time.

From the resulting corner, McIntyre showed good awareness by hacking off the line.

But Reading’s resistance was agonisingly broken in the 90th minute.

Another excellent corner by substitute Joe Newell was flicked on and Mattock got the final touch in the ensuing goalmouth scramble.

The hosts almost nicked it during injury time, but Vaulks’ shot just missed the target after more pinball in the Reading box from another dangerous corner.

It was a sickening end to a game Reading will feel they should have won given the clear-cut chances they created, particularly in the first half.

But at least they were not beaten in a must-not-lose relegation six-pointer, and with so many injuries especially in defence.

Next Saturday Reading host sixth-placed Middlesbrough who were beaten 2-1 at QPR today.

Rotherham Utd: Rodak; Vyner, Ajayi, Wood (Robertson 46), Mattock; Forde, Vaulks, Towell, Taylor (Newell 68); Williams (Proctor 46); Smith. Subs not used: Price, Palmer, Wiles, Manning. Booked: Mattock 45+2.

Reading: Jaakkola; Yiadom, Blackett, McIntyre, Gunter; Bacuna, Rinomhota, Swift; McCleary, Baldock (Bodvarsson 79), Sims (Loader 86). Subs not used: Mannone, Osho, Kelly, Edwards, Barrow. Booked: Sims 6, Jaakkola 88.

Referee: Ross Joyce.

Attendance: 8,775 (Reading 433).