As the final few minutes ticked away, Reading's supporters could be heard chanting "England's No1" in praise of what must rank as one of the most astonishing goalkeeping displays ever seen in these parts.
The hosts had been battered by a Liverpool side that appeared hell-bent on racking up a cricket score but simply could not find a way past Alex McCarthy. The 23-year-old made save after save and, as his team continue to slide towards relegation, provided them with hope for the future.
Liverpool had 23 shots on goal here compared with Reading's five, with 11 on target and the vast majority of them kept out by McCarthy. His display began with a double save from Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho early in the first half and peaked late on with a point-blank stop from Luis Suarez that left the Uruguayan looking on in anguish.
What made McCarthy's display even more astonishing was that it came in his first appearance since undergoing a shoulder operation for an injury he picked up on November 4. Having usurped Adam Federici as Reading's No 1, McCarthy had not played since then but returned yesterday with a bang.
"Our players couldn't have done any more," said Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager. "Some of our interchange play was outstanding but it was just one of those days – we had 14 shots on target [sic] but came up against an inspired goalkeeper."
Rodgers knows McCarthy from his six-month spell as Reading manager in 2009 and, like the home fans, feels the former England under 21 international has the credentials to play for the senior team. "It'll be a hard job as Joe Hart is one of the top five goalkeepers in world football, but Alex is a top talent," he said. "He showed today that he can make saves, is good with his feet and very assured in his overall performance." Nigel Adkins also praised McCarthy, describing his display as "world class", but the Reading manager was keen to point out that had it not been for Jose Reina's point-blank save from Noel Hunt midway through the second half his side could have won.
But that would have been wholly unjustified given the gulf in class between the sides here. This contest had started with an impeccably observed minute's silence in tribute to the 96 Liverpool supporters who died at the Hillsborough disaster, the 24th anniversary of which falls tomorrow, although the atmosphere soon turned unsavoury as the away section made clear their joy at the passing of Margaret Thatcher. Flares and fireworks were let off while some danced in delight at the death of a woman almost universally loathed on Merseyside.
On the pitch it was also Liverpool who caught the eye as Sturridge, Suarez and Coutinho moved with fluidity and pace, their passing crisp and incisive. McCarthy was beaten after 15 minutes only for Suarez to see his lob over the goalkeeper headed off the line by Chris Gunter. Early in the second half Coutinho had the ball in the net after back-heeling Steven Gerrard's cross, but the effort was ruled out for offside.
The visitors became ragged for a period, during which Hunt should have scored, but they finished strongly. For Reading, relegation looms larger. They are seven points away from safety with only five fixtures remaining. "We'll keep working hard," said Adkins as somewhere in this stadium his goalkeeper reflected on the performance of his life.