Haas off target but West Brom on top

West Bromwich Albion 0 Reading 0
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"Top of the League, you're having a laugh," sang the visiting fans, and they were right on both counts. Results before this late-afternoon kick-off kept West Brom at the summit of the First Division, but the Baggies can hardly have been less convincing all season. Despite dominating possession from start to finish, the best they had to show for it was two good chances missed by their full-back Bernt Haas, ensuring Reading got the point they came for.

Lee Hughes is the only natural goalscorer in West Brom's ranks, and as soon as he came on as a substitute they were more direct. With 58 minutes gone he flicked on a Jason Koumas cross. Unfortunately they could have done with Hughes being on the end of his own touch, because the ball fell instead to Haas, and the defender scuffed his shot with Marcus Hahnemann helpless.

Two minutes later the hapless Haas was again primed to score, but the former FC Basle player made it a double Swiss miss in quick time, side-footing his shot over the bar.

With Reading operating a five-man midfield in front of their four-man defence, whenever the tireless Nicky Forster lost the ball up front for the visitors, West Brom were faced with two walls of Reading players. As soon as they broke through one, the ball was simply mopped up by the second, with Ricky Newman and Ivar Ingimarsson outstanding.

The architect of West Brom's best chances was Koumas. The Welsh midfielder, playing for the first time since the disappointment of his country's elimination from Euro 2004 at the hands of Russia on Wednesday, was prompting all that was best about the home side.

However Reading, who were hard to break down under their previous manager, Alan Pardew, have retained that quality since Steve Coppell took over at the Madejski Stadium. In his nine games in charge the Royals have only lost twice.

But West Brom are not top of the division for nothing, and their run of form is now just one defeat in seven games, and the West Midlanders are eyeing an instant return to the Premiership.

With 17 minutes gone Koumas curled in a cross that eluded every one of his team-mates, and the Reading goalkeeper Hahnemann, almost creeping in at the far post. More intentional was his effort six minutes later, when he jinked past two defenders and tried to chip Hahnemann, only to underhit his effort.

Coppell's plans had been hit by injury, especially to his two first-choice central defenders and the striker Shaun Goater. His counterpart Gary Megson, however, was forced to re-shuffle his pack during the game.

An injury to Danny Dichio, playing his first game for West Brom since his return from a loan spell with Derby, meant the introduction of Hughes at half-time, which nearly signalled an immediate upturn in the Baggies' fortunes. While he may be blameless, Hughes may need to sharpen up his ability in front of goal in future.