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A stoppage-time header from substitute Bryan Ruiz secured a priceless win for Kit Symonds as his Fulham side edged a scrappy encounter against Reading and ended a run of three successive league defeats.

Symons had called on his team to build on their penalty shoot-out success at Wolves in the FA Cup in midweek but they had to patiently wait for the breakthrough against a physical and cynical Reading, managed by Steve Clarke, who was rumoured to be the running to succeed Felix Magath when Fulham sacked the German coach in September. It was Swedish international Alex Kacaniklic who gave Fulham the lead, smartly latching onto a through ball from skipper Scott Parker, racing clear of the Royals’ defence and clinically finishing past Adam Federici. It was the perfect way to mark Kacaniklic’s first start for Fulham since being recalled from his loan spell with FC Copenhagen.

Fulham’s defensive problems during a difficult first season back in the Championship have been well documented and, although Symons has done remarkably well to lift the side he inherited with a single point to their name after eight games away from the drop zone, the familiar failings reared their ugly head again here. The identity of Reading’s goalscorer shouldn’t have come as a surprise as Pavel Pogrebnyak scored six goals at Craven Cottage during a five-month loan spell in 2012, but Symons would have been disappointed with the way the Russian striker shrugged off the attentions of Jack Grimmer to power Oliver Norwood’s corner past Marcus Bettinelli from close range.

Pogrebnyak’s first league goal of the season prompted Reading’s most impressive spell of the game and winger Garath McCleary twice went close to putting the Royals in front. First, he delivered a teasing cross after a tricky run that eluded everyone as he flashed across the face of goal and then sent a rising drive into the Putney End. The visitors then saw Simon Cox’s close-range finish chalked off for offside and the former West Brom forward then sent a deflected shot narrowly wide as Clarke’s side pushed for a winner.

Nick Blackman failed to make contact with McCleary’s excellent pass as he surged clear in the first minute of injury time and that proved crucial. Just seconds later, Fulham burst forward and Ross McCormack’s deep cross was cleverly headed back across goal by Cauley Woodrow and Ruiz rose bravely to restore the home side’s lead. The two substitutes had enlivened a predictable Fulham front line – and Symons insisted that the Costa Ruiz captain, who has been linked with a move to Boca Juniors this evening, remained ‘fully committed’ to Fulham.

Such stoppage-time drama was in stark contrast to a turgid first half that was more memorable for a sub-standard refereeing performance from Mark Brown than the standard of football. Reading had started the brighter, with McCleary to fore, but captain Alex Pearce and Hal Robson-Kanu spurned their clearest openings. Pearce’s downward header was headed off the line by Kostas Stafylidis and Welsh international Robson-Kanu curled a 20-yard effort narrowly over the crossbar. The home side’s best chances fell to an out-of-form Hugo Rodallega. The Colombian striker sliced inexplicably wide from six yards out after excellent approach play from McCormack and then drove an instinctive effort against the far post after Adam Federici had brilliantly kept out Shaun Hutchinson’s header.

FULHAM (4-4-2): Bettinelli; Grimmer, Stafylidis, Bodurov, Hutchinson; Parker; Tunnicliffe, Fofana; Kacaniklic (Ruiz 78); McCormack, Rodallega (Woodrow 73). Subs (not used): Kiraly, Burn, G. Williams, Roberts, Dembele.

BOOKED: Bodurov, Tunnicliffe, Kacaniklic.

GOALS: Kacaniklic (55), Ruiz (90+2).

READING (4-4-2): Federici; Gunter, Obita, Hunter, Pearce; D. Williams, Norwood, McCleary, Robson-Kanu; Pogrebnyak (Mackie 84), Cox (Blackman 84). Subs (not used): Andersen, Kelly, Cooper, Guthrie, Karacan.

BOOKED: Gunter, Cox, McCleary, Pogrebnyak.

GOAL: Pogbrebnyak (63).

REFEREE: Mark Brown (Lancashire).

ATTENDANCE: 17,381.