Leeds United slipped to a third straight defeat as a controversial Mo Barrow goal and Pablo Hernandez’s missed penalty in injury-time handed Reading a 1-0 win at Elland Road.
Former United loanee Barrow slipped home a low effort on 85 minutes as Leeds protested angrily over an apparent foul on Hernandez in the build-up.
The Spaniard appeared to have his shirt pulled but the challenge went unpunished and Barrow took advantage when Joey van den Berg guided a pass through Leeds’ defence.
United were given a golden chance to snatch a point in added time when Samuel Saiz was tripped by Liam Moore but a poor effort from Hernandez was easily saved by Vito Mannone.
Leeds, however, had largely failed to muster a convincing response to their derby defeat at Sheffield Wednesday before the international break and struggled to find their rhythm as Reading fashioned most of the better chances.
Goalkeeper Andy Lonergan - preferred by United head coach Thomas Christiansen to under-pressure Felix Wiedwald - kept out Reading’s best efforts before the goal with brilliant saves from Sone Aluko and Mo Barrow.
Leeds’ also saw isolated openings and substitute Jay-Roy Grot was denied a tap-in by a desperate sliding tackle from Leandro Bacuna before Barrow scored.
Reading succeeded in negating Leeds from the off and Christiansen’s players failed to seriously threaten in the first half.
Pierre-Michel Lasogga came closest for the hosts with an early header which Mannone saved and a shot from distance which sailed wide on the half-hour.
Reading tried to find space in behind United’s defence and Roy Beerens curled an effort over the bar after good work from Garath McCleary on the right wing on 23 minutes.
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson should have done better in the 36th minute when he shot straight at Leeds goalkeeper Lonergan from inside the box and Lonergan pulled off a brilliant low block to deny Sone Aluko seconds later.
Christiansen sprung a big surprise before kick-off by replacing Felix Wiedwald with Lonergan, despite giving the German a vote of confidence in his pre-match press conference on Thursday.
Wiedwald paid for his performance in United’s 3-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday before the international break as Lonergan stepped into replace him and make his first league appearance of the season.
Neither Christiansen nor Jaap Stam were tempted to tweak their line-ups at the start of the second half and Eunan O’Kane and Dave Edwards exchanged early efforts at goal but both sides toiled in a combative period.
Bodvarsson aimed a near post header over the crossbar while substitute Barrow, Leeds’ former loanee, was inches away from the opening goal with virtually his first touch on 68 minutes. Lonergan then denied the forward with a superb, finger-tip stop.
United, however, thought the opening goal was theirs when Saiz laid on a pass for substitute Grot, only to see Bacuna recover and stab the ball behind six yards out. Pontus Jansson fired the resulting corner over from close range and Mannone kept the score level eight minutes from time when he dived to claim a Saiz header on his goalline.
Barrow’s finish amid complaints from United set up a chaotic finish in which Liam Moore tripped Saiz but Mannone guessed right to deny Hernandez, inflicting another loss on Leeds.
Leeds United: Lonergan, Ayling, Cooper, Jansson, Berardi (Dallas 89), O'Kane, Phillips, Roofe (Sacko 67), Saiz, Hernandez, Lasogga (Grot 77). Subs: Wiedwald, Pennington, Klich, Cibicki.
Reading: Mannone, Gunter, Moore, Ilori, Van den Berg, Edwards, Bacuna, Beerens (Barrow 65), McCleary (Clement 90), Aluko (Kelly 71), Bodvarsson. Subs: Jaakkola, Blackett, Popa, Smith.
Good Day for: Jaap Stam. Reading’s boss needed a win, far more than Thomas Christiansen, and he got it in a manner which was ultimately deserved. Mo Barrow enjoyed himself too. Back at a club where he made precisely no impact on loan, the forward looked like scoring with every touch.
Bad Day For: Pablo Hernandez. Tried as he does make things tick but his habit of drifting inside meant there was no penetration on the left-hand side and when the chance came for him to snatch a draw, his nerve failed him. He cannot have produced many poorer penalties than that.
Key Moment: Barrow’s goal. There was a strong hint of a foul on Hernandez in the build-up and Leeds were furious about it. But for that moment they might have held out for a point or gone on to nick a win but it could not be claimed that United ever found their rhythm.