Football: Reading under pressure: Trevor Haylett sees the Second Division leaders beaten by their closest rivals for promotion

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The Independent Online
SUDDENLY, a contest worthy of the name is taking shape at the head of the Second Division as well, with a second successive defeat bringing Reading's comparison with Manchester United just a little too close for comfort.

Plymouth Argyle prevailed 3-1, and what a fortnight ago was a catch-us-if-you-can advantage for Reading of 10 points, now stands at two, a handy cushion slipping away from Mark McGhee and his team through careless hands, a debilitating run of injuries, and a challenge growing in strength and conviction from those below them.

Stockport County, six points off the pace, have three games to make up on these two sides. But it is Plymouth who are favoured to take over, because this crucial victory saw them complete their programme against their rivals in the top seven places.

As they have demonstrated before, Plymouth also have the knack of making the utmost of their opportunities in front of goal. Three priceless strikes brought Peter Shilton's men level with the Reading tally of 64 goals, which no one else can better.

The manager was as pleased as he would allow himself to be, expressing satisfaction that: 'We performed in a big game in front of a big crowd,' before quickly assuming caution-mode. Tomorrow brings a visit to Rotherham: 'We have to show we can get up for games like that as well as this.'

When your living once depended on excellence between the posts, it can only be ironic when your subsequent career prospers through the failings of another member of the goalkeepers' union.

Trinidad-born, the Reading goalkeeper, Hislop, was named Shaka after a chief of the Zulu tribe, but at Home Park he would have had trouble repelling a boy scout troupe. Adrian Williams' risky back-pass saw him fly-kick the ball into the stomach of Plymouth's brave line-leader, Kevin Nugent, who was already sore in that area after a virus. Yet he retained his strength and composure to score then, and again later when, after Hislop had flapped at a free-kick, he squeezed in his shot.

Reading rubbed out Nugent's first when Dylan Kerr achieved what he had failed to do five minutes before, when just Alan Nicholls barred his way. Only a second Reading goal was missing from a period of command before half-time, although why that so quickly evaporated after the break only they can answer.

The Plymouth midfield grew in authority around the enduring skills of Steve McCall, and the result was never in doubt again.

'I would still rather be in our position than theirs,' said McGhee, who spends his Friday afternoons ringing the rival camp's club-call line for clues as to their likely line- up. Forewarned, Shilton listed a full squad. 'We knew the others would come back at us eventually, but seven more wins should do it for us,' McGhee added.

Goals: Nugent (18) 1-0; Kerr (27) 1-1; Dalton (54)

2-1; Nugent (72) 3-1.

Plymouth Argyle (4-4-2): Nicholls; Patterson, Burrows, Comyn, Naylor; Burnett, McCall, Castle, Dalton; Nugent, Evans. Substitutes not used: Edworthy, Skinner, Newland (gk).

Reading (4-4-2): Hislop; Wallace, Hopkins, Williams, Kerr; Taylor (Lambert, 77), Gooding, Jones, Gilkes; Quinn, Lovell. Substitute not used: Ranson.

Referee: K Cooper (Swindon).