Reading return to the big time

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Reading is as well known for its music festival as it is for its football. Following the scenes of celebration at the final whistle of last night's match, you would be forgiven for thinking that the festival had started early, as the Royals rejoiced at the prospect of playing Premier League football next season.

As Brian McDermott's players took to the field against Nottingham Forest, they knew the task at hand: better West Ham's result to guarantee automatic promotion to England's top tier with two games to spare.

It had been a tight affair at the Madejski Stadium, as news filtered around the ground that Bristol had held West Ham to a 1-1 draw. The Reading fans urged their side to get the goal that would confirm their Premier League status.

Minutes later the goal came courtesy of Mikele Leigertwood in the 81st minute. The champagne was on ice and the stadium rocking. Then came the final whistle and the home fans took to the pitch in celebration.

These scenes of jubilation looked unlikely after the Royals had started the season under a cloud of uncertainty following the sale of their captain Matt Mills to Leicester, and their top goal scorer of the previous season Shane Long to West Brom.

Attacking midfielder Jobi McAnuff was made captain and has played 38 games in the league, scoring five goals and making 12 assists.

Having been denied the chance of promotion the previous campaign, following a 4-2 play-off final defeat against Swansea, Reading would have hoped for a good start to 2011-12.

However, they got off to a poor start, winning only once in six games - leaving them second bottom with four points - 12 points behind the early pacesetters Brighton.

At the halfway point of the season they were sitting in sixth, 11 points from Southampton at the top of the table. Automatic promotion, at this point, looked like a tough task.

Experienced striker Jason Roberts was brought in from Blackburn during the January transfer window, and his arrival coincided with a 10-match unbeaten run starting with a win against Bristol City.

The run ended at Peterborough where they lost 3-1. Doncaster, the only club to take points from the Berkshire club during this run, earned a 1-1 draw.

Reading's run coupled with West Ham's sequence of five consecutive draws saw the London club go from four points ahead of the Royals to four points behind having played a game less.

After the loss to Peterborough, they picked up where they left off and are currently on a run of six successive wins, including victories against fellow automatic promotion chasers West Ham and Southampton.

The Hammers were brushed aside as Reading came from behind to earn them a 4-2 victory at Upton Park, to move four points clear of Sam Allardyce's side, with both teams having played the same amount of games.

Reading found themselves at the summit of the Championship for a brief period following a win against Leeds, but the Saints' draw against south coast rivals Portsmouth, was enough for them to regain top spot on goal difference.

With both teams locked together on 82 points and with Reading gaining momentum, the two sides met at St Mary's last Friday, with a win for either team providing a crucial advantage going into the final three matches. The Royals ran out 3-1 winners.

Reading boast the best defensive record in the Championship this season, conceding only 37 goals in 44 games. Kaspars Gorkss, brought in to replace Matt Mills in August, joined Alex Pearce at the heart of the defence. The experienced Ian Harte and Shaun Cummings make up the remaining defensive line that has been influential in a successful campaign.

Having guaranteed promotion after the victory against Forest, Reading now have two games remaining in the season and would be hoping to win each of their remaining fixtures to win the Championship for the first time since the 2005-06 season.

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