Football: Reading head towards title: Second Division promotion race

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The Independent Online
Stockport County. . . . . . .1

Reading. . . . . . . . . . . 1

Reading, trailing to a header by the 6ft 7in Kevin Francis which threatened to throw the Second Division promotion race wide open, deservedly equalised through the 35-year-old Mick Gooding and will go up as champions if they beat Brighton at home tomorrow.

A point lifted Stockport into second place, but Danny Bergara's side now face a gruelling finale of three matches in eight days. The evidence of last night's full-blooded encounter at Edgeley Park, where Stockport struggled to maintain their furious first-half tempo, is that Port Vale and Plymouth are likely to take them down to the wire.

Despite playing their second match in 48 hours, Stockport set about the leaders in their customary style. Some might call it anti-style, for Stockport are short on craft and long on commitment, with the emphasis on physically dominating their opponents before exploiting the height of Francis from set-pieces.

Stockport's corners were difficult enough for Reading to counter. Their throw-ins, launched like javelins in the six-yard box by Mike Flynn, were something else. Reading, who had difficulty lifting the siege, let alone asserting their passing game, were only four minutes from being able to regroup at half- time when the ploy paid off.

It was a typically minimalist Stockport goal. Flynn threw, Jim Gannon flicked on, and Francis glanced his 32nd goal of the season from four yards.

Reading's riposte, a flurry of chances at the start of the second half, suggested that their manager, Mark McGhee, might have warned them that they risked being squeezed out into the play-offs. Jimmy Quinn had two attempts to claim his 42nd goal of the campaign for club and country, but both were cleared off the line, while John Keeley saved bravely as Scott Taylor raced clear.

Stockport, getting a second wind, had three opportunities to wrap up the points. Gannon volleyed over; Michael Wallace ballooned his shot even higher when there was time to compose himself; and Francis drove inches wide.

With 12 minutes left, they paid for their profligacy. Adrian Williams sent Quinn down the left, and the Northern Irishman's low cross was bravely converted by Gooding as Keeley hurtled out.

Stockport County (4-4-2): Keeley; Connelly, Flynn, Miller, Todd; Gannon, B Williams, Wallace, Ryan; Francis, Preece. Substitutes not used: Frain, Beaumont, Ironside (gk).

Reading (4-4-2): Hislop; Hopkins, McPherson, A Williams, Kerr; Taylor (Gilkes, 66), Parkinson, Gooding, Jones; Lovell, Quinn. Substitutes not used: Ranson, Kee (gk).

Referee V Callow (Solihull).