Football: Sunderland leave Royals in disarray: After an impressive start to the season, Trevor Haylett watched an injury-hit Reading side lose their unbeaten home record on Saturday

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The Independent Online
If there were points to be gained for wealth, tradition and size of support, then by rights Sunderland would be closer to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the promotion hierarchy and Reading would be well off the bottom instead of the top.

Thankfully, there remains more to it than that. Astute management which is able to guide and inspire will always be important. There is no mystery about Reading's annexation of the First Division high ground: it is merely decent players knowing exactly what is required of them.

Their first season following promotion has been a case of so far, so very good. At least it was until Saturday, when for the first time injuries blew the cover off the small squad Mark McGhee is forced to carry, but who could claim a proud home record that showed no defeats and not a single goal conceded.

The effect was demoralising; quite simply the Royals were a family in disarray and Sunderland were able to take handsome advantage. Not enough for the satisfaction of their manager Mick Buxton, but more than enough to confirm to McGhee that he must reassert his efforts to bring new faces to Elm Park.

'I'm pleased with the win but not the result,' said Buxton, which brought only a quizzical response until he quickly confirmed that it was the narrow margin of the victory that displeased him. 'We should have won by five or six,' he said and that was not stretching the truth.

Sunderland were repeatedly allowed to drive unchallenged through a feeble midfield, and were given time to choose their point of attack, either through the youthful promise of Martin Smith on the right or via the strong overlapping runs of Richard Ord down the left.

Both goals, headers made all the more easy for the lack of any forceful challenge, derived from corners perfectly delivered by Smith. Both were put away by the internationals in the Sunderland ranks, the Welshman Andy Melville and by Philip Gray of Northern Ireland, an indication, you might assume, of their superior strength in depth.

Yet Reading also have representatives in those national teams, the difference being that where Sunderland always had support each time Adrian Williams or Jimmy Quinn tried to start something in reply, they were sadly let down by those in hooped shirts around them.

So confused were Reading, so inappropriately cast as the favourites for this game, that midway through the first half when Quinn waited and waited for someone to pass to, he ended up dispatching the ball 25 yards to Gray, his colleague in the Irish team.

'We were well beaten and looked like a team feeling sorry for ourselves because of our injuries, and because of the people who had to come into the side,' said McGhee, who nevertheless refused to be downcast.

'We can't afford to worry unduly, and if we had been told before the start that we were going to lose we would not have been surprised,' he said.

Goals: Melville (11) 0-1; P Gray (49) 0-2.

Reading (4-4-2): Hislop; Bernal, Williams, Wdowczyk, Kerr; Taylor (Lambert, h-t), Parkinson (McPherson, 74), Osborn, Gooding; Gilkes, Quinn. Substitute not used: Sheppard (gk).

Sunderland (4-4-2): Chamberlain; Kubicki, Ball, Melville, Ord; Smith, Snodin, M Gray, Russell (Rodgerson, 81); Goodman, P Gray. Substitutes not used: Howey, Musgrave (gk).

Referee: E Wolstenholme (Blackburn).

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