Betfred Sport

Royals win at West Ham and put one foot in the Premier League door

Reading know what it's like to miss out on promotion to the Premier League. Their defeat in last season's play-off final was the second time they have fallen at the final hurdle.

Having finished in second place in the table in the 1994-95 season, the Royals were 2-0 up against Bolton Wanderers in the play-off final at Wembley, then missed an opportunity to go 3-0 ahead when Stuart Lovell's penalty was saved. Bolton hit back and took the game into extra-time before booking their place in the top flight in extra-time.

Reading finally reached the promised land in 2006, going up as champions, and finished eighth in their first season in the Premier League, before relegation the following season.

Swansea in the play-off final last season proved a bridge too far in their bid for a return.

Back in the first half of this campaign, Reading were not providing much inspiration for their fans, keen to see their side go one better and secure promotion.

Charge into the top two

But then, suddenly, something clicked. The Royals couldn't stop winning. The result was a charge from below the play-off places into the top two, at West Ham's expense.

Saturday's game at Upton Park wasn't quite a play-off final, but the Royals went there knowing a win would take them four points clear of the Hammers with just six games remaining, and that defeat would see West Ham leapfrog them into second place.

Carlton Cole gave the Hammers an eighth minute lead, and they looked like going into the break in front. But Reading have strength in reserve and two goals at the end of the half from Kaspars Gorkss' head, in the 44th minute, and Noel Hunt (pictured), with a strike in first half stoppage time, saw the Royals take a 2-1 lead into the second half.

Ian Harte's career is still going strong. The 34-year-old made more than 200 appearances for Leeds United between 1996 and 2004 and played for Levante, Sunderland, Blackpool and Carlisle before joining Reading in the summer of 2010.

And Harte won't have scored too many more important goals in his career than his 59th minute penalty that gave Reading a 3-1 lead.

Hammer blow

The Royals had to keep their heads after Ricardo Vaz Te's header on 77 minutes.

But keep their heads they did and Mikele Leigertwood fired into the top right corner from just inside the area in the 84th minute to seal the win.

It wasn't quite a play-off final triumph, but third place means the lottery of the end of season play-offs, and Reading don't want to extend their season in that way again.

Brian McDermott's side are on form at the right time and a four point gap between Reading and West Ham with six games remaining is just reward for the Royals' magnificent run of results over the last few months.

Reading's six-match run in includes home games against Leeds, Nottingham Forest and Crystal Palace. They also travel to Brighton and leaders Southampton and, if they continue their current form, they could already be promoted by the time they visit Birmingham on April 28.

Automatic promotion is the goal for McDermott's men but, with Southampton losing 3-0 at Blackpool in Saturday's late game, just two points separate the top two with six points remaining - and the Championship title isn't out of the question for the Royals. 

By Mark Roach 

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