Football: Reading looking more than a passing fancy

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Stockport County. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

PASS, PASS, pass. The passing game is an obsession with Reading's Scottish manager, Mark McGhee, and it looks certain to take his smart side up to the First Division come the end of the season: a boost for all stylists that would be, as long as Reading do not find themselves lining up against Swindon, Chelsea and Tottenham next August.

Reading's flick skills, however, were exaggerated by comparison with a Stockport side wedded to something more basic. For 45 minutes they fell back in numbers and hoped to hit their giant striker, Kevin Francis, with long clearances. Any number of times they were sliced open by Michael Gilkes and Dillon Kerr attacking down Reading's left, and Mick Gooding and Scott Taylor down their right. Chance after chance came and went before Stuart Lovell put two away just before the interval.

Opting for the more traditional tactics of shutting down a passing side, Stockport pushed out in the second half but they achieved little more than to make Reading work harder.

'The first half is about the best we've played,' McGhee said, citing the crossing and an inability to convert more chances as the only disappointments. He and Colin Lee, his assistant, press home the passing message at every opportunity and their method has put Reading seven points clear at the top of the Second Division. Yesterday's defeat pushed Stockport out of second spot and perhaps back into a promotion scramble.

There is plenty of talent at Elm Park and McGhee makes sure to exploit it. Lovell, who tucked away his first goal from Kerr's through- pass and added his second after cutting in from the right, was told to shape up or ship out at the end of last season. He chose the former and McGhee now describes him as the most improved player at the club.

County began with a flat back four, with Dean Emerson sitting in front of it and everyone other than Francis and his fellow front-runner Andy Preece ready to chase back. The space they conceded allowed Reading to entertain their biggest crowd of the season, 11,240. That was 1,200 more than watched their Coca-Cola Cup tie against Manchester City and perhaps that many again were locked outside.

Things seem to be looking up for Reading, who are unbeaten in 15 League games, but Stockport fans should not hold their breath.

Reading (4-4-2): Hislop; Gooding, Williams, Hopkins, Kerr; Taylor, Dillon, Parkinson, Gilkes; Quinn, Lovell. Substitutes not used: McPherson, Gray, Brown (gk).

Stockport County (4-1-3-2): Edwards; Todd, Flynn, Miller, Wallace; Emerson (James, h/t); Beaumont, Frain, Ward; Francis, Preece. Substitutes not used: Gannon, Ironside (gk).

Referee: R Groves (Weston-super-Mare).

(Photograph omitted)