Norwich City 2-2 Reading: Canaries pegged back by Royals' dramatic last gasp equaliser in an epic Championship tussle
Promotion-chasing Norwich City were denied a ninth consecutive Championship win after what had looked an epic comeback when Reading equalised in the 97th minute to earn a 2-2 draw on Wednesday night.
City had trailed until the 86th minute, to Yakou Meite’s first half goal, before Ben Godfrey and Christoph Zimmermann notched to spark wild euphoria at Carrow Road as they looked to moved further clear at the top.
But in the last act of the game, Andy Rinomhota coolly finished from the edge of the area to cut short the celebrations.
City remain six points clear of Leeds and a point further ahead of Sheffield United, who drew 1-1 at Birmingham City.
Todd Cantwell got the nod to replace the suspended Emi Buendia in the only change to Daniel Farke’s line up.
Reading’s early intent was clear; five blue and white shirts stationed across their own 18 yard line and no appetite to press City high up the park.
Kenny McLean whipped a dipping cross into the Reading six yard box but Emiliano Martinez’s handling proved secure.
Cantwell’s first meaningful contribution was a gorgeous cushioned ball behind the Royals’ backline for Onel Hernandez only for the Norwich flyer to stray offside.
Farke had cautioned in the build up Reading were a far better side in possession that QPR, and there signs of that in the composed manner they switched the play through Lewis Baker.
But the squad constructed by Farke is as good as any in this division in that regard. Max Aarons spotted Marco Stiepermann’s run but Teemu Pukki was unable to climb high enough to test Martinez.
Tom Trybull picked out the same run, after a cagey spell, but Stiepermann’s lack of comfort on his right foot was evident as Reading’s defence shuffled across.
Not for the first time this season, it was Hernandez who injected some direct thrust when he cut inside Chris Gunter and unleashed a low shot Martinez shovelled around his near post.
Reading continued to pack their own half and exploit the pace of Meite on the counter. Godfrey won a leg race to intercept the ball after a rare moment of alarm in the opening quarter.
Reading’s suffocating defence was doing little for the game as a beauty contest. But there was a dramatic shift on the half hour mark when Stiepermann’s sloppy pass was pounced on by Modou Barrow who surged down the left and crossed for Meite to lash a close range shot into the roof of Tim Krul’s net.
That setback appeared to have a corrosive effect on City’s play in the aftermath. Passes went astray as Norwich tried to up the ante with added urgency. But then two moments of hope. McLean got in behind and picked out Pukki’s near post run, but the Championship player-of-the-season was unable to divert the ball the right side of the post.
Then Cantwell’s fizzing half volley cleared the top of Martinez’s bar.
Norwich needed a spark as the game moved into first half stoppage time and when Pukki advanced onto Aarons’ cross you expected the net to bulge. The trigger move bought him the time to hook a right-footed shot on the angle of the six yard box but it slithered wide of the far post. Pukki’s anguished scream as the television camera panned for a close up spoke volumes.
City’s fans roared Zimmermann’s side back on to the pitch after the interval. Pukki tried to carry the fight in the opening seconds with a slaloming run across the Reading box but the radar was off again.
Trybull then let fly from 25 yards with a shot that grazed the outside of the post before Aarons unleashed a rising shot wide.
Martinez was booked before the restart for timewasting in a visible sign of Reading’s growing unease. But he kept his side in front on the hour mark with a superb close range reaction stop to tip over Pukki’s header from a brilliant Jamal Lewis cross.
But just as in the first half, City escaped again when Reading launched a rare counter at ferocious speed. Meite wriggled free but this time dragged a low shot wide of Krul’s far post in the 65th minute.
Pukki tumbled after getting in front of Tyler Blackett but referee Stroud waved away home penalty appeals. Farke turned to Jordan Rhodes, with Cantwell making way for the final quarter, and City switching to a defensive three.
McLean whipped in a corner which Andy Yiadom headed against Godfrey and the ball dropped wide.
Hernandez worked a chance in the 78th minute with a driving burst infield but dragged his shot into the side netting.
Aarons switched the play for Pukki to bring the ball down at the far post but Reading defenders converged before Zimmermann miscued McLean’s corner to the frustration of the home fans.
But City staged a stunning late riposte as hope appeared to be fading. Godfrey exchanged passes with Stiepermann on the edge of the area before hammering an unstoppable rising shot beyond Martinez.
Barely had the noise subsided before unmarked captain Zimmermann rose imperiously to head McLean’s corner home from seven yards to spark bedlam inside Carrow Road.
Zimmermann hared towards Farke and his coaching staff as players piled on top of each other.
Rhodes was thwarted by Martinez as the title contenders looked to seal the victory.
But there was a painful sting in the tail in the 97th minute when Reading launched one last foray down the right flank and when the ball was cut back Rinomhota coolly sidefooted an equaliser from 18 yards.
• Norwich City: Krul, Aarons, Zimmermann, Godfrey, Lewis (Vrancic 81), Trybull, McLean, Cantwell (Rhodes 70), Stiepermann, Hernandez, Pukki (Klose 90). Subs (not used): McGovern (GK), Leitner, Hanley, Srbeny.
• Goals: Godfrey (86), Zimmermann (88)
• Reading: Martinez, Gunter (Loader 90), Yiadom, Moore, Baker (Baldock 90), Barrow (McCleary 77), Ejaria, Miazga, Meite, Blackett, Rinomhota. Subs (not used): Walker (GK), Harriott, Barrett, McIntyre.
• Bookings: Martinez (unsporting behaviour, 48); Baker (foul on Trybull, 62)
• Goals: Meite (30), Rinomhata (90+7)
• Time added on: 1 minutes / 6 minutes
• Referee: Keith Stroud (Hampshire)
• Attendance: 26,662