ITALIAN goalkeeper Vito Mannone blotted an otherwise impressive copybook when his late blunder cost Hull City victory over promotion-rivals Reading.
Mannone, whose loan deal from Arsenal expires next week, had saved a second-half penalty from Shane Long to put the Tigers on the brink of a fifth win in seven games.
With four clean sheets in his previous six starts, the 22-year-old has played a major part in Hull's surge up the Championship table.
Not surprisingly, the club are currently in talks with Arsenal about extending his deal for the rest of the season.
However, with the clock ticking towards the final whistle, Mannone punched a free-kick from Ian Harte against his own team-mate Paul McShane allowing Reading substitute Simon Church to net the equaliser from close range.
The result was harsh on Nigel Pearson's side – who had controlled the game for long periods and struck the woodwork twice – but they still go into the new year high on confidence after extending an unbeaten run to eight games and moving within four points of the Championship play-off zone.
Pearson described the late goal as 'unfortunate' but illustrated his support for Mannone at the final whistle by waiting around to shake his hand.
The Hull manager was far less happy with the performance of the match officials who had bungled a number of major decisions and sparked fury among the club's biggest home crowd of the season, 21,795.
"They are conspicuous for two reasons," said Pearson. "Firstly, they are wearing pink, secondly, the four of them epitomise why people like myself don't ever give them feedback – because I am wasting my time and energy.
"I don't think I would be the only person in the stadium to have strong feelings about them."
Striker Aaron McLean looked on from the stands ahead of his 1.5m move to Hull from Peterborough United. McLean, 27, is due to be registered in time to make his debut against Leicester City on New Year's Day and will be joined soon after by Leicester striker Matty Fryatt in a 1m deal.
The Tigers suffered a blow just before the game when defender Anthony Gerrard had to withdraw due to an Achilles injury in the warm-up. McShane stepped in at centre-back and Liam Cooper was added to the bench.
Left-back Andy Dawson was back after suspension and
replaced Kevin Kilbane who suffered an eye injury in the Boxing Day victory at Sheffield United.
Hull started the better with on-loan Manchester United striker Cameron Stewart soon showing glimpses of his pace and quick feet. Stewart, who looks and plays like a younger, faster version of Geovanni, has recently extended his deal until the summer when Hull plan to test United's resolve with a 'cheeky offer', according to head of football operations Adam Pearson.
Kamil Zayatte was unlucky not to break the deadlock at an early corner and Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici made a diving save to block Robert Koren's shot from the edge of the area.
With 15 minutes gone, Reading had a foothold in the contest. Winger Jimmy Kebe struck the side-netting and then appealed in vain for a penalty when his attempted cross struck Dawson's arm.
Reading had an escape when Koren embarked on a mazy run before lashing a shot against a post. But they were denied a penalty for possibly the second time when Zayatte appeared to barge Noel Hunt to the floor.
Former Reading midfielder Harper put the Tigers ahead six minutes before the break with a beautifully curled low drive that beat Federici from 25 yards. The midfielder spent nine years with the Royals before leaving to join Sheffield United in September 2009 and had not scored a goal for seven months.
It was his first strike for the
Tigers since arriving in the summer and he celebrated by dashing over to the home dug-out for hugs with the coaching staff.
Stewart nearly doubled the lead but his angled drive bounced back off the woodwork.
There was a major controversy at the start of the second half over a challenge by Reading's Andy Griffin on Hull striker Jay Simpson.
Referee David Foster initially blew for a Hull free-kick just outside the box but, after a lengthy consultation with linesman Carl Dunn, changed his mind. Hull supporters were furious but Griffin had won the ball with a slide tackle inside the box.
Referee Foster was already being subjected to a torrent of abuse when he then opted to award Reading a penalty.
There appeared to be little wrong when McShane blocked Shane Long and knocked the ball out for a corner yet Foster immediately pointed to the spot and fuelled more anger. Justice was served, however, when Mannone saved Long's penalty.
Asked if his side had now 'turned a corner' after a slow first half of the season, Hull manager Pearson said: "I hope so but we have got another huge game (against Leicester) on Saturday and will need to win that. Progress in this table is difficult because it is so compact but if we go about the games that come along with that sort of appetite and application we will be fine."
Hull City: Mannone; Rosenoir, Zayatte, McShane, Dawson; Koren (Bullard 86), Harper, Ashbee, Devitt (Barmby 78); Simpson (Garcia 83), Stewart. Unused substitutes: Duke, Cairney, Solano, Cooper.
Reading: Federici; Griffin, Mills, Pearce, Harte; Kebe, Leigertwood (Antonio 72), Karacan (Howard 58), McAnuff; Long, Hunt (Church 58). Unused substitutes: McCarthy, Tabb, Khizanishvili, Robson-Kanu.
Referee: D Foster (Tyne & Wear).