Kitson slows Sunderland's gallop

Sunderland 1 - Reading 2
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The Independent Football

It was a good day for the Royals. Their lunchtime engagement passed without a hitch on Wearside, on the site of the old Monkwermouth Colliery.

It was a good day for the Royals. Their lunchtime engagement passed without a hitch on Wearside, on the site of the old Monkwermouth Colliery.

Trailing to a Julio Arca goal against a Sunderland side on the brink of promotion and on a winning run of eight games, Steve Coppell's Reading side dug deep to unearth a victory that strengthens their own chances of making it to the Premiership, via the play-offs. Two goals in the last 14 minutes - both courtesy of Dave Kitson, the second from the penalty spot - left the Royals flushed with an unlikely success and Sunderland facing the prospect of postponing their graduation ceremony.

A ninth successive win would have put Mick McCarthy's men within five points of guaranteed promotion, with the possibility of the champagne even being on ice for them at Portman Road next Sunday. As it is, they will head to Ipswich looking to regain their momentum after suffering their first defeat for two months, their first loss at the Stadium of Light since Boxing Day.

"We should have won today but we haven't," McCarthy lamented. "It highlights to everyone that it's not all over, but we're still in the best position." It would have been fair to say that McCarthy's players had only themselves to blame, had their failure to convert the steady flow of chances they enjoyed not been due in a large part to the excellence of Marcus Hahne-mann, the "tank-built Yank" in the Reading goal. The ageing son of Seattle thwarted Arca on two occasions before saving his team big-time in the 32nd minute.

Dean Whitehead was left with only the goalkeeper to beat after Arca had put him clear through the middle. It looked an odds-on goal, but the Sunderland midfielder delayed his shot a fraction too long, and when he finally dispatched it Hahnemann was able to block with his feet on the edge of the penalty area.

"USA, USA," the loyal band of Royalists in the South Stand chanted. Like them, however, their American idol could only watch and breathe a sigh of relief a minute before the interval when Carl Robinson's header looped over the keeper's shining pate and smacked off his crossbar.

It was not entirely one-way traffic in the first half, Steven Sidwell steering wide a header and a shot for Reading. After the interval, though, the Sunderland v Hahnemann show swiftly resumed. The one-time custodian of the Colorado Rapids denied Arca with another smart block, but could do nothing in the 52nd minute when his defensive colleagues failed to cut out a Marcus Stewart ball from the right, leaving Arca with an easy headed finish at the far post.

At the other end, the injured Thomas Myhre made way at half-time for Michael Ingham, who had little to occupy him on the occasion of his home League debut until he picked the ball out of his net in the 76th minute after Les Ferdinand, with his first decisive touch as a second-half substitute, flicked on a Hahnemann clearance and Kitson eluded two defenders on his way to bundling in the equaliser.

It prompted the introduction of Brian Deane, a relative youngster in comparison to the 38-year-old Ferdinand but at 37 years and 58 days the oldest debutant in Sunderland's 126-year history. It was, of course, a second home debut in a Stadium of Light for the one-time Benfica man. It was not to be a happy one, though.

With nine minutes remaining, Jeff Whitley hauled down the influential Sidwell on the left side of the Sunderland penalty area and Kitson stepped up to blast the winner from the spot. His 19th goal of the season in the Coca-Cola Championship took the last drop of fizz out of the occasion for Sunderland.