Norwich City 2, Reading 1
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Two goals in the space of two minutes early in the second half earned Norwich City a precious Premier League victory over Reading and pushed them closer to securing their top-flight future.
It was the two Bennetts who proved the unlikely goalscoring heroes with substitute Ryan scoring his first for the club after 50 minutes and winger Elliott following up with his first league goal of the season on 52 minutes to put the Canaries in control at a vibrant Carrow Road.
But the home crowd still had to endure a tense final 20 minutes after Garath McCleary reduced the arrears with a powerful 25-yard drive before the Royals fought desperately for a leveller in a match that had five minutes of added time.
It was only the second win in 17 league games for Chris Hughton's team, who overcame the loss of defender Michael Turner with injury in the opening half to maintain an unbeaten home record in 2013.
Ryan Bennett's goal came after Reading keeper Alex McCarthy parried Grant Holt's header from a Robert Snodgrass corner. With the crowd still celebrating, Elliott Bennett struck number two after McCarthy palmed down a Russell Martin cross.
Victory took City into 13th place on 38 points, seven clear of third from bottom Wigan, who have a game in hand. Defeat virtually condemned Reading to a swift return to the Championship.
City boss Chris Hughton made two changes after the 3-1 defeat at Arsenal with Javier Garrido returning at left-back in place of Steven Whittaker and Elliott Bennett recalled in midfield at the expense of Alex Tettey
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Bradley Johnson recovered from the dead leg he suffered against the Gunners to keep his place, while winger Anthony Pilkington and forward Wes Hoolahan were named among the substitutes, along with full-back Marc Tierney.
Fit-again goalkeeper John Ruddy, striker Luciano Becchio and defender Whittaker did not feature in the 18.
Reading showed one change after the 0-0 draw against Liverpool with striker Nick Blackman replacing Noel Hunt.
Before kick-off, the City Under-18 players who reached the FA Youth Cup final with their penalty shoot-out success against Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night completed a lap of honour, while ex-Canaries Darren Huckerby, Dion Dublin and Darren Eadie joined them on the pitch to help pump up the atmosphere ahead of a key game.
With 90 seconds gone, Elliott Bennett let fly with a fierce rising drive that missed the target but certainly got the crowd going.
Then Garrido's cross from the left found Snodgrass closing in at the far post but his header skewed wide of the target.
Elliott Bennett was enjoying a busy start and from a Howson pass, he let fly with a powerful right-foot shot that was narrowly wide.
After just five minutes, Reading had a problem when Pogrebnyak went down and needed attention on his lower back.
Reading threatened for the first time when Bassong cut out a cross by McAnuff, then Russell Martin conceded a corner under pressure from McAnuff but headed clear from the same player's flag-kick.
A cross from Martin almost presented Kamara with a heading chance in the six-yard box, but Morrison was first to the ball, before Snodgrass flashed a shot wide as City kept up their high tempo start.
Snodgrass was to the fore again as he weaved into the Reading area before pulling back a cross for Garrido to fire a first-time effort at McCarthy, the keeper grabbing the ball at the second attempt.
Gunter picked up the first yellow card on 11 minutes for a foul on Holt that left the City skipper hobbling.
There was a real blow for Norwich went Turner went down and needed attention to his left leg, very quickly deciding he could not continue and making way for Ryan Bennett after just 18 minutes.
It was Ryan Bennett's first appearance since the FA Cup defeat by Luton, and his previous Premier League appearance brought an own goal in the 5-0 defeat at Liverpool.
A free-kick opportunity wide on the right was wasted when Snodgrass curled the ball straight out of play
Reading's best effort yet came on 27 minutes when McCleary struck a powerful effort just off target, then it took a determined challenge by Bassong to stop Pogrebnyak getting in a shot and, worringly, City's other regular centre-half was receiving attention for a bang in the face while they played with 10 men.
Johnson, stepping in briefly at centre-half, conceded a corner with a wayward header and Bassong promptly conceded another when Guthrie's kick was nodded across goal. Holt cleared the next corner but it was a bright spell for Reading and McCleary brought Bunn into action, diving to his right.
Snodgrass had to get back to prevent Kelly getting in a cross at the expense of another Reading corner, which Ryan Bennett cleared while also taking a knock in the face.
Pogrebnyak diverted the ball over from close range as McCleary fired it into the six-yard box with City very much on the back foot as the interval approached.
A promising move was spoiled when Elliott Bennett's cross was straight into McCarthy's arms after Howson burst forward to effect.
In first half stoppage time, McCarthy kept Reading on terms with a smart save from a Kamara volley after Snodgrass had teed up the chance.
• Half-time: Norwich City 0, Reading 0
Four minutes into the second half, City were desperately close to taking the lead when Holt's flick set up Kamara, who brought a fine save out of McCarthy with a searing left-foot drive that led to a corner.
Karacan was booked for fouling Holt but the skipper was soon back on his feet, helping set up the opening goal as his header from Snodgrass's corner was parried by McCarthy, but defender Ryan Bennett fired the rebound into the roof of the net for his first goal for the club.
Less than two minutes later, the Canaries doubled their lead as the other Bennett, Elliott, scored his first of the season.
McCarthy failed to deal with a cross by Russell Martin under pressure from Holt, palming the ball only as far as Elliott Bennett, who fired in goal number two via the keeper's foot.
Carrow Road was a cauldron in the wake of those two goals and it might have been 3-0 when Garrido set up Kamara for a shot that was deflected wide, and when Holt flashed a header over the top.
Norwich looked supremely confident now and Snodgrass let fly with a 25-yard drive that McCarthy fumbled out for another corner.
Kamara's thumping header was parried by the overworked keeper as City continued to hold the whip hand.
Reading rallied briefly and McAnuff's drive was blocked by Ryan Bennett, before Elliott Bennett had to make a vital defensive header.
Blackman was booked for a foul on Snodgrass as Reading's frustrations began to surface.
But when it seemed City were well on top, the visitors found a way back into the game on 72 minutes with a fine goal by McCleary. He got the better of Howson midway into the City half and with the defenders giving him too much room, let fly with a 25-yard shot that Bunn got a hand to, but was unable to keep out.
Reading were lifted by the goal and Bunn was grateful to hold on to a curling effort by Karacan.
McCleary was proving a handful and another weaving run set up Blackman for a long-range shot that flew well wide.
With 10 minutes left, Hughton made a second change with Elliott Bennett making way for Tettey.
Another frantic attack with three minutes left ended with Reading forcing a corner and Snodgrass going down on the edge of the penalty area and needing treatment, hobbling off to be replaced by Pilkington.
Guthrie's kick was eventually hacked away by Tettey, but Reading continued to press and McCleary hooked an overhead kick narrowly over the bar.
Five minutes of stoppage time were signalled to pile on the agony for the home crowd, and Kelly planted a header wide from Gunter's cross as Reading continued to push for an equaliser.
Holt won a free-kick by the left corner flag, and then City forced a corner to help keep the seconds ticking away before a huge roar greeted the final whistle.
• Norwich City: Bunn; Russell Martin, Turner (Ryan Bennett, 18), Bassong, Garrido; Snodgrass (Pilkington, 89), Howson, Johnson, Elliott Bennett (Tettey, 80); Holt, Kamara. Subs (not used): Camp, Tierney, Hoolahan, Jackson.
• Reading: McCarthy; Gunter, Morrison, Mariappa, Kelly; Guthrie; Blackman, McCleary, Karacan, McAnuff; Pogrebnyak. Subs (not used): Taylor, Pearce, Leigertwood, Cummings, Carrico, Le Fondre, Hunt.
• Referee: Mike Dean (Cheshire)
• Attendance: 26,460
• Goals: City: Ryan Bennett (50), Elliott Bennett (52). Reading: McCleary (72)
• Bookings: City: Snodgrass (61). Reading: Gunter (11), Karacan (50), Blackman (68)