KEVIN KEEGAN slipped back into the day job yesterday with his magic wand still in good working order. Fulham, in truth, were less than magical but still went back - slowly - up the congested M4 with their lead at the top of the Second Division extended to 14 points and enough material to keep the statisticians happy if not the quality controllers.
A 12th away win of the season and a total of 87 points both equalled club records and are likely to be broken before long while, with eight games left, the divisional record of 99 points is comfortably within reach.
Top of the Second Division since December, Fulham have lost this year only to Manchester City in the league and the other Manchester team in the FA Cup, winning 11 and drawing two of their most recent 13 games. The only statistic that remained unchanged was Geoff Horsfield's scoring run. He barely had a single opportunity to add to his 10 goals in the last eight matches but had that in common with most other players on the pitch.
There were perhaps two opportunities to each team in each half, which added up to something less than a feast for the crowd of 18,741 - the second highest since Reading decamped to the impressive Madejski Stadium.
Keegan could not blame his team's indifferent performance on Easter fatigue: this was their first game for 16 days. The Reading pitch, however, shared with Richmond Rugby Club, has had plenty of use and Keegan said: "With all the money there is in football today, you just wish they'd spend a bit more on the playing surfaces."
Before half-time the home goalkeeper, Scott Howie, put a careless clearance straight to the feet of Paul Trollope, but Barry Hayles mis-cued the midfielder's pass. At the other end there was little to trouble Fulham's German-born Northern Ireland international Maik Taylor, other than Grant Brebner's header sliding past the post.
Reading, needing a victory to clamber back within sight of a play-off place, had matched their visitors in most areas until then and should have pulled ahead of them in the 72nd minute. Chris Coleman, stepping forward, failed to play the Liberian international striker Mass Sarr offside and Taylor was forced to make the one notable save of the afternoon.
Within six minutes the home side had been harshly punished. Trollope's free-kick from out on the right was flicked on by Hayles and Simon Morgan, a loyal old timer in a team of new boys on the block, volleyed in. Being able to bring in Philippe Albert because of suspensions illustrated Fulham's relative strength compared to the rest of the division. Although threatening at set pieces, he looked occasionally uncomfortable as a left wing-back, but Reading could not take advantage.
Taylor's handling of crosses was excellent and, after going behind, the side that Tommy Burns strengthened with five new players just before deadline day did not look like forcing an equaliser.
Fulham supporters, not afraid to flaunt their money or their position, chanted: "You'll never play us again." Not next season anyway.
Reading (4-4-2): Howie; Maybury, Primus, Casper, Gray; McClaren (McKeever, 70), Caskey, Parkinson, Brebner; Scott, Sarr. Substitutes not used: Glasgow, Hunter.
Fulham (3-5-2): Taylor; Simons, Morgan, Coleman; J Smith, Hayward, N Smith, Trollope, Albert; Horsfield (Lehmann, 88), Hayles (Peschisolido, 82). Substitute not used: Collins.
Referee: M Brandwood (Staffs).