Kebe double seals win for Reading
Reading once again scored a late goal to secure a 2-1 win against Sunderland, with two-goal Jimmy Kebe the hero of the day.
A late victory over West Brom last month and a brace from Adam Le Fondre in a 2-2 draw against Chelsea in midweek had seen the Royals make a great start to 2013 and, thanks to Kebe, that continued at Sunderland's expense.
Kebe struck twice to book-end a game that had little quality on show as the Berkshire club opened up a two-point cushion on the Barclays Premier League bottom three.
A first-half Craig Gardner penalty looked for a long time like it would be enough for the Black Cats to claim a point but Martin O'Neill's side left the Madejski Stadium empty-handed.
Reading took the lead with the first meaningful attack of the game when Jobi McAnuff reached the byline before pulling the ball across to an unmarked Kebe, who controlled well before firing past Simon Mignolet.
The visitors failed to test Adam Federici in the Reading goal until the 24th minute. Alfred N'Diaye brushed off a couple of challenges before shooting low at the Australian, who could only push the ball into the path of the onrushing Sebastian Larsson but Federici was quickly back to his feet to keep out the follow-up.
Sunderland did not have to wait long to be gifted a chance to draw level.
Captain John O'Shea was chasing a clearance as Pavel Pogrebnyak slid in and brought the former Manchester United man down inside the area.
The foul was missed by referee Lee Mason but not by his assistant Simon Beck, who received heavy criticism from Sir Alex Ferguson last month - which has landed the United boss in hot water with the Football Association - and Gardner thumped the resulting penalty past Federici.
Reading almost regained their lead five minutes before the break as Pogrebnyak climbed to head Ian Harte's free-kick towards goal, only for Mignolet to claw the ball to safety.
It was the home side who returned from the interval as the brighter team with Harte's low free-kick palmed into the path of Pogrebnyak by Mignolet and the Russian striker crossed towards Alex Pearce, who could not get his header on target.
Pogrebnyak was involved again moments later as his clever touch sent the ball through the legs of his marker and into McAnuff, who was upended by David Vaughan.
Harte's free-kick cracked into the wall as the Royals looked to capitalise on a strong start to the half.
Despite their side being on top in the game the Reading fans soon started to sing for Adam Le Fondre to be introduced from the bench and Brian McDermott obliged, replacing Garath McCleary with the in-form frontman.
New signing Nick Blackman replaced Pogrebnyak with a little over 15 minutes remaining to partner Le Fondre but it was Adrian Mariappa who almost put Reading back in front.
Another set-piece from experienced full-back Harte saw Mariappa get in front of his man but his header came back off the crossbar.
Sunderland's debutant Danny Graham was the next player brought on to try to find a winner - but it was N'Diaye who should have given the visitors the lead with just 10 minutes left on the clock, only to fire wildly wide wide after he had been played in by Adam Johnson down the right flank.
Newcastle fan Graham almost endeared himself to the Sunderland fans just minutes after coming on but his header was tipped over by Federici.
Sunderland were now looking the most likely to score a dramatic winner but Reading have made it their trademark of late and they struck again with five minutes remaining.
Once again Sunderland's defence could not deal with a Harte free-kick, as the former Republic of Ireland defender thrashed the ball to the back post where Kebe rose to head Reading back in front.
The Royals saw out the remainder of the game to move clear of Wigan and Aston Villa, who could only manage draws in their respective encounters.