Football: Heady days again at The Hawthorns

West Bromwich Albion 1 Reading 0
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The Independent Online
It took a tortuously long time in arriving, but Andy Hunt's winner 11 minutes from time was worth the wait for the West Bromwich Albion supporters, who have been success-starved for too many years.

Hunt's fourth goal of the season not only gave the home side a hugely merited victory but also lifted them to the top of the First Division for the first time in almost nine years, even if the First Division is not what it used to be.

Ray Harford, their manager, said: "It's great for the fans that we've gone top. We've done it with an almost shadow team because we have so many players out. We had to be patient today, but the lads stuck at it and we got our reward."

West Bromwich have not played in the top flight since 1985-86, but supporters are already dreaming of promotion to the Premiership following an unbeaten start to the season of eight league and Coca-Cola Cup games.

If West Brom fans are dreaming, followers of Reading must be having nightmares, with the club's worst start in their history, having yielded just one point from six matches. Their mistake-riddled performance looked as ominous for the future of the newly-appointed manager Terry Bullivant as for the team's prospects of staying in the First Division.

They started brightly enough, Mark Robins supplying James Lambert with a fine goalscoring opportunity in the second minute. But Lambert reacted far too slowly and was robbed by David Smith.

Five minutes later their record signing Carl Asaba, who cost pounds 800,000 from Brentford in the close season, prodded a low cross from Lambert the wrong side of the near post.

Thereafter, practically everything that Reading did was wrong. Depleted though West Brom were by international calls and injuries to key players, they nevertheless had few problems in taking control then dictating the rest of the game.

The only disappointing aspect of Albion's display was the lack of goals which could have consigned Reading to defeat well before Hunt's conclusive strike.

In the first half Peter Butler and Bob Taylor had goalbound efforts well stopped, but on the half hour Taylor shot hopelessly wide of an empty net, and five minutes before the interval Hunt failed to find enough power in a 12-yard shot which Linvoy Primus was able to clear off the line.

However, after Sean Flynn, Richard Sneekes and Flynn again had been denied by the goalkeeper Steve Mautone after the break, Hunt produced the conclusive strike. He lobbed a high ball beyond the far post and, when Paul Raven's header bounced off the crossbar, Hunt was perfectly placed to head the ball over the line from six yards.

Goal: Hunt (79) 1-0.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Miller; Holmes, Burgess, Raven, Nicholson; Flynn, Sneekes (Hamilton, 79), Butler, Smith; Taylor (Thomas, 62), Hunt. Substitute not used: Dobson.

Reading (4-4-2): Mautone; Booty, McPherson, Primus, Sandford; Meaker, Hodges, Parkinson, Lambert; Asaba (Roach, 85), Robins. Substitutes not used: Swales, Holsgrove.

Referee: P S Danson (Leicester).

Bookings: Reading: Parkinson.

Man of the match: Smith.

Attendance: 15,966.