Reading have managed expectations throughout their extraordinary season by going into denial after every match.
Yet even Steve Coppell, their understandably cautious manager, must be close to acknowledging publicly that his side will be playing Premiership football in August. Perhaps that was why he sent his assistant, Kevin Dillon, to the post-match press conference after their latest victory, the 27th of the campaign, at Burnley on Saturday. The Royals need to collect 11 points from their last nine games to guarantee promotion. They could probably lose them all and still go up.
"If we beat Watford next week then it will be very difficult for the other teams to catch us," said Dillon. "I'm not going to fall into the trap of saying we're up because I know I'd be in trouble with Steve - but it's certainly a nice position to be in."
From the moment the Berkshire side took the lead against Burnley there was only one likely winner. Bobby Convey, the American winger, produced a long-range strike that even had the home fans applauding.
They were clapping a Reading player again just before the interval, though this time as Leroy Lita, the England Under-21 striker, left the field on a stretcher having suffered a suspected break to his left leg.
If Burnley had any chance of rescuing a point it evaporated early in the second half when Ibrahima Sonko rose to convert Glen Little's free-kick.
The gap between the two sides was thrown into sharp focus in injury time when two of Reading's substitutes, Steve Hunt and Dave Kitson, combined for the latter to score a late third.
Since selling their leading scorer, Ade Akinbiyi, in January Burnley have gone into free-fall, winning once in 12 games since Boxing Day. With Michael Ricketts, on loan from Leeds, unavailable through illness, Steve Cotterill was left with a front two comprising an 18-year-old debutant and a midfielder. Against the Championship's best defence, Kyle Lafferty and Michael Duff were always likely to endure a fruitless afternoon.
Cotterill's club simply does not have the financial resources to compete with most other teams in the League. "We didn't believe we could win the game once we'd gone behind," he said.
"The players are lacking confidence and what they need from their manager at the moment is not a kicking but a cuddle."
Goals: Convey (10) 0-1; Sonko (55) 0-2; Kitson (90) 0-3.
Burnley (4-4-2): Jensen; Sinclair, Thomas, McGreal, Harley; Spicer (Elliott, 59), Hyde, J O'Connor, McCann; Lafferty, Duff. Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Karbassiyoon, G O'Connor, Courtney.
Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Oster (Little, 52 (Hunt, 83), Harper, Gunnarsson, Convey; Lita (Kitson, 45), Doyle. Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Makin.
Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).
Booked: Burnley O'Connor.
Man of the match: Convey.
l The Sheffield United midfielder Phil Jagielka, who was named as the best player in England outside the Premiership in an Independent survey of managers, journalists and pundits in January, was named as the Championship Player of the Year at the inaugural Football League Awards held at the Park Lane Hilton in London last night.Reuse content