Cape Town - The Reds ended a six-loss streak with an 18-17 victory over the Cheetahs on Saturday in a tense Super Rugby clash.
Cheetahs flyhalf Joe Pietersen had a last-minute chance to snatch victory from a kickable medium-range penalty.
But to the dismay of most in the Bloemfontein crowd, his kick rebounded off the left post and the Australians held on for a second victory of the season.
The crucial score for the Reds came six minutes from time at the Free State Stadium when a long Will Genia pass found half-back partner Nick Frisby, who calmly slotted a drop goal.
His score was a Super Rugby rarity with only four drop goals in 66 southern hemisphere inter-provincial championship games this season.
Victory lifted the visitors off the bottom of the 15-team standings to 13th while the Cheetahs remained one place higher having collected a losing bonus point.
"I am so proud of my guys," said Reds skipper and Wallabies loosehead prop James Slipper. "We have been waiting a long time for this victory.
"The rugby gods smiled on us at the death when the penalty struck the post, but a little luck was overdue this season.
"We did well at scrum time and that was no surprise as the guys have been putting a lot of effort into that aspect of our game.
"There has been considerable talk among us about starting each half well and those two early second-half tries ultimately made the difference."
Cheetahs lock and skipper Francois Uys said the first-half losses of full-back Coenie van Wyk, tighthead prop Coenie Oosthuizen and flanker Heinrich Brussow through injuries took its toll.
"We lost some key guys early on, but credit must go to the substitutes for a great effort.
"The Reds applied a lot of second-half pressure, pinning us back deep in our half, and that proved decisive."
Pietersen kicked an early penalty and converted a scintillating try by left-wing Rayno Benjamin to give the Cheetahs a 10-point advantage before Reds left-wing James O'Connor narrowed the gap via a penalty.
An O'Connor break set up replacement forward Adam Korczyk to score a try and centre Samu Kerevi dotted down soon after.
Former Wallaby O'Connor, who lost his national-squad place due to continuous off-field indiscipline, converted the first and the Reds led 15-10 on 52 minutes.
A pushover try by loose forward Boom Prinsloo after a driving maul which Pietersen converted nudged the Cheetahs ahead again.
They retained the two-point advantage for 17 minutes until Frisby lifted the Reds off the bottom, a space now occupied by New Zealand's Blues.
Tries: Rayno Benjamin, Boom Prinsloo
Conversions: Joe Pietersen (2)
Tries: Adam Korczuk, Sam Kerevi
Conversions: James O'Connor
Drop-goals: Nick Frisby
15 Coenie van Wyk, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Boom Prinsloo, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Francois Uys (captain), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 BG Uys
Substitutes: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Danie Minnie, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Steven Sykes, 20 Tienie Burger, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Willie du Plessis, 23 Rayno Benjamin
15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 James O’Connor, 10 Nick Frisby, 9 Will Genia, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Curtis Browning, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper (captain)
Substitutes: 16. Andrew Ready, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Marco Kotze, 20 Adam Korczyk, 21 Anthony Fainga’a, 22 Campbell Magnay, 23 Chris Kuridrani