SEMI Ajayi denied Reading FC a priceless victory with a late Rotherham United equaliser in today’s relegation six-pointer.

Ovie Ejaria had given Royals a crucial lead on 31 minutes with an expert finish.

But the home side’s defence creaked in the closing stages allowing Ajayi to bundle home an 80th minute leveller.

While there were chances at both ends during the tense clash, it was undoubtedly two points dropped by Jose Gomes’ side in their battle for Championship survival.

A win would have put them three points above today’s opponents and the relegation zone with 12 games to go.

However, Ajayi’s late goal means the sides remain locked together on 30 points, with Royals one place higher in the table by virtue of a better goal difference.

Gomes made three changes from the side walloped 4-0 at Sheffield United with John Swift – making his 100th club appearance - Garath McCleary and Tyler Blackett returning to the side in place of Liam Kelly, Mo Barrow and Omar Richards.

There was also a return to the bench for young striker Danny Loader, while Rotherham were unchanged from the side that drew 2-2 with Sheffield Wednesday last weekend.

The Millers started well as Jon Taylor’s shot from the edge of the box deflected over in the fifth minute.

Visiting skipper Will Vaulks fired wide at the near post from the corner with Reading’s defence looking far from assured.

Then four minutes later a cross from the right found Anthony Forde in acres of space in the middle of the area, but his touch let him down and big chance went begging.

Royals responded on 11 minutes when Swift linked up with Meite down the right only to blaze over from 20 yards out And 10 minutes later Billy Jones made crucial intervention to put Swift’s dangerous free-kick out for a corner with a number of Royals players bearing down on goal.

However, Gomes’ men slowly started to get on top and they broke the deadlock on 31 minutes with a fantastic team goal.

Swift turned defence into attack with a smart ball to Blackett who quickly found McCleary galloping down the left.

Royals winger burst into the area before cutting the ball back to Ejaria who guided a delightful first-time effort past Marek Rodak and into the far corner.

It was a priceless goal in the context of things, but Reading refused to sit on their lead and pressed for a second with Ejaria lifting an effort of the bar then Swift missing the target from 25 yards.

Millers, though, threatened less than a minute after the restart with Liam Moore throwing his body in the way of Ritchie Towell’s piledriver.

However, Royals also went close when Swift curled an effort just wide of the far post after Oliveira had sent McCleary scampering away.

It was not always pretty on the eye and a series of niggly fouls, yellow cards and a substitutions disrupted further disrupted the flow.

Millers asked questions of the home defence in the 66th minute when Towell got free before crossing to Michael Smith who poked wide at the near post.

Yet Ejaria threatened to double Royals’ lead, but his finishing failed to match the build-up and he dragged his shot wide.

Gomes sent on John O’Shea for Meite with 19 minutes to go in a desperate move to protect their slender lead.

But within moments of the change Moore had to fling himself in front of another stinger, this time from Smith.

Gomes men, looking increasingly dangerous on the break, saw McCleary test Rodak after he was teed up by Swift.

However, they were soon pegged back when Rotherham equalised 10 minutes from the end.

Oliveira lost the ball in the centre circle when after Reading had sprung a three-on-two counter attack.

Rotherham worked the ball to right and when a cross arrived in the area, Clark Robertson nodded it into the path of Ajayi who bundled it through the legs of Martinez.

It was a bitter blow for the hosts – but they wasted a glorious chance to regain the lead five minutes later.

Rodak could only scoop Ejaria’s low drive from a tight angle into the path of Oliveira, but the striker somehoe missed the target from three yards with the goal at his mercy.

Moments later, Rodak made an excellent stop to deny Ejaria from just inside the box.

Lewis Baker also sent a free header from Oliveira’s cross straight into the hands of the Rotherham keeper in the final minute.

Royals almost nicked it in stoppage time when Barrow rounded Rodak just inside the Millers area and rolled the ball across the face of goal, but Oliveira couldn’t get there in time and the Rotherham keeper got back to grab the ball on the line.

Yet, Warne’s men almost grabbed a last-gasp winner themselves with Joe Newell shooting a foot wide of the past with Martinez beaten.

However, Rotherham have now drawn their last five matches, while Royals have won two of their 11 games under Gomes ahead of two more vital fixtures at basement boys Ipswich Town next weekend then 19th-placed Wigan Athletic.

Reading FC: Martinez, Blackett, Moore, Miazga, Yiadom, Baker, Ejaria (Harriott 86), Meite (O’Shea 71), Swift, McCleary (Barrow 86), Oliveira. Subs not used: Walker, Gunter, McShane, Loader. Booked: Swift 54.

Rotherham: Rodak, Mattock, Vaulks ©, Ajayi, Forde, Taylor (Williams 58), Towell (Crooks 89), Robertson, Ihiekwe (Newell 70), Smith, Jones. Subs not used: Price, Vyner, Wood, Yates. Booked: Mattock 50, Williams 59, Vaulks 89.

Referee: Jeremy Simpson.

Attendance: 15,958 (Rotherham 763).