Substitute Ola John grabbed a last-gasp winner for Reading to sink 10-man Bolton and push them closer to relegation from the Championship.
The hosts, now potentially one game from the drop, were soon a man down after Rob Holding’s red card.
Matej Vydra saw the resulting penalty saved by Ben Amos, while Reading twice hit the woodwork in the second half.
Caretaker boss Jimmy Phillips looked to have secured his first point in charge of Bolton until John’s 35-yard stunner.
Bottom-of-the-table Wanderers’ plight was underlined by the team selection of Phillips, who was given interim charge following the exit of Neil Lennon.
Five of Bolton’s starting line-up were homegrown academy players and their inexperience showed as they rarely threatened, with Zach Clough’s shot straight at former Trotters favourite, Ali Al Habsi, as close as they came.
Reading did the majority of the attacking, but Vydra headed over when it seemed easier to score, while ex-Manchester United keeper Amos saved with his legs as the Czech Republic star burst through.
But after Dutchman John missed a sitter, his brilliant long-range effort helped Reading to a first win in six matches to lift them up to 13th in the table.
Bolton boss Jimmy Phillips:
“I have just got to get the team playing as well as it can until the end of the season, picking up as many points as we can.
“As a club we have got to make sure, whatever league we are playing in next season, we start off positively. We can only do that by ending this season as well as we can.
“We don’t want it to fade out and drift away. We want to finish with some team performances where all 11 players are working for each other.”
Reading manager Brian McDermott:
“It was a fabulous goal to end it and Ola John has got that ability and skill.
“He has got that something special in the locker and that’s why we brought him on. To bring him off the bench was a real bonus.
“We had a little spell in the second half but we didn’t move the ball quickly enough. And so you need that bit of genius and he produced that.
“We deserved to win but you have got to give credit to Bolton.”