Nolan takes Newcastle to within a point of the title

Reading 1 Newcastle United 2
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The Independent Football

In 2006, Reading romped away with the Championship title. Four years on, and it is all but Newcastle United's. They do not play on Saturday, but if West Bromwich Albion fail to beat Middlesbrough at the weekend then Chris Hughton's side claim it without having to earn a point away to Plymouth Argyle on Monday. The longest trip in the league won't feel so long if silverware is heading up to Tyneside next week.

Reading are still hoping to reach the play-offs, unlikely though it now seems. Brian McDermott, their manager, has not given up but even if they win their games in hand the Royals still need a series of results to go their way that would make the most loyal of optimists question their belief.

As if to emphasise the divide between these clubs this season, Newcastle did all the damage despite resting Andy Carroll, who was the club's top scorer before kick-off. By half-time, he had been relegated to second in the club charts thanks to Kevin Nolan's two strikes. Now playing just behind Shola Ameobi, the former Bolton midfielder has 18 goals.

Newcastle's task was made easier as Reading were using their fourth choice centre-back, Alex Pearce, due to injuries and suspensions. It meant McDermott was forced to pair him with Bryn Gunnarsson, who is normally a central midfielder. It showed after 21 minutes when a long ball to Ameobi saw him pick out Nolan from eight yards. Three minutes before the break, Wayne Routledge picked out Nolan once again, who was clinical at the near post.

Nolan, who put Ameobi in the shade with this performance, was looking to extend his advantage over Carroll and was within a foot of claiming his hat-trick but from Routledge's cross, he hit the post with a header. The next goal did come from a Newcastle player but it was an own goal, after 70 minutes, coming after Jose Enrique's clearance rebounded off Danny Simpson.

While this defeat virtually signified the end of Reading's play-off hopes the home fans could at least remember the days, when they were running away with the Championship title, chanting: "106, we won with, 106 points".

Hughton said: "We are very close. If the results go against us this weekend we would have to get something on Monday. We've put ourselves in a great position."

Reading (4-4-1-1): Federici; Griffin, Gunnarsson, Pearce, Bertrand; Kébé, Tabb (Church, 59), Howard, McAnuff (Robson-Kanu, 65); Sigurdsson; Long (Rasiak, 79). Substitutes not used: Hamer (gk), Cissé, Henry, Karacan.

Newcastle United (4-4-1-1): Harper; R Taylor, Williamson, Coloccini (Jose Enrique, h-t), Simpson; Routledge (Barton, 75), Guthrie (Carroll, 75), Smith, Gutierrez; Nolan; Ameobi. Substitutes not used: Krul (gk), Lovenkrands, Best, Pancrate.

Referee: F Graham (Essex).

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