Crystal Palace 1 Reading 1: Harper stuns Palace with wonder goal

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The Independent Online

The 29th match of Reading's unbeaten run featured more graft than glory, but the goal with which James Harper maintained that sequence at Selhurst Park last night would have lit up any match in the Premiership, where Steve Coppell's men will surely play next season.

Trailing 1-0 to Andy Johnson's 78th-minute penalty, the Championship leaders responded within two minutes with a goal delightful in its construction and devastating in its completion. Glen Little's clever pass to the edge of the penalty area found Leroy Lita, who laid the ball off to the onrushing Harper. The midfielder timed his run to perfection and smashed the ball first time into the far corner of the net.

Reading had generally been on the back foot against a Palace side buoyed by their own recent run of five successive league wins, which has cemented their place in a play-off spot.

Palace created enough chances to win the match and most fell to Johnson, who was lively throughout but will probably regret having only a penalty to show for his endeavours. If there was an element of luck in the award ­ although Marcus Hahnemann brought down the Palace striker he appeared to have already lost control of the ball ­ it was at least compensation for a much stronger penalty claim when Harper handled Jon Macken's cross.

The Palace manager Iain Dowie, who felt his team deserved to win, had deliberately not told Johnson that Sven Goran Eriksson was in the crowd. Remarkably, the Swede was attending a match at this level for the first time in more than five years as England manager.

Johnson's best chance had come in the fourth minute. Racing on to Harper's casual back-pass, Palace's leading scorer streaked clear only to see his shot saved by the spreadeagled Hahnemann. The Reading goalkeeper denied Johnson on several other occasions, most notably with a smart one-handed save after a clever through-ball by Michael Hughes.

Reading's best spell had come at the start of the second half, when Gabor Kiraly was forced to make a fine save, pushing Little's shot over the bar. Nothing in the match, however, could match the sweetness of Harper's telling strike.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Kiraly; Hall, Ward, Hudson, Boyce; Soares, Watson, Hughes, McAnuff; Johnson, Macken. Substitutes not used: Speroni (gk), Freedman, Morrison, Leigertwood, Andrews.

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Little, Sidwell, Harper, Convey; Kitson (Lita, 63), Doyle. Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Gunnarsson, Lita, Hunt, Oster, Stack.

Referee: T Kettle (Berkshire).

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