Reading 0 Watford 0: Mahon stalls Reading's bandwagon

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The Independent Football

Nothing, it seems, will stop Reading becoming champions of the Championship, but Watford offered the leaders a fight, and a fright or two on occasion. They were determined enough in defence and bold enough in attack to be worthy of the draw.

This was their second goalless draw of the season against the top side and the first time Reading have failed to score at home in the League. As his success nears the formality stage, Reading's manager, Steve Coppell, still refuses to become involved in speculation about promotion and its consequences. He has not yet got around to signing the new 12-month contract he stipulates as his preference and added: "We play Wolves next week. We want to win that one, and that is all I am bothering about."

Winning against Watford was something which looked on the cards only for the final 15 minutes of the first half, when Reading managed to settle long enough - against opponents determined to deny them space - to carve out three excellent chances.

The first came from a Marcus Hahnemann goal- kick, headed on by Kevin Doyle to offer Dave Kitson time and space for a shot, which he drove wildly over the bar. The next two openings for Reading were denied by goal-line clearances, once when Ibrahima Sonko stooped to offer a header to Bobby Convey's penetrating, volleyed cross only to see that determined veteran Malky Mackay deny him with a spectacular overhead kick, and then just on half-time when a bobbling, half-saved Kitson effort was booted away by Lloyd Doyley.

Having looked in need of respite by the interval, Watford made a much more confident job on the resum-ption of closing Reading down, with their captain, Gavin Mahon, outstanding in a holding role in front of the back four.

It was ironic that he was the one who came close to gifting Reading the lead in the 54th minute, heading back towards his goalkeeper, Ben Foster, without noticing Kitson closing in. Foster's clutch of the ball was narrowly achieved.

Having left his 18-goal top scorer, Marlon King, on the bench because of hamstring problems, Watford's manager, Adrian Boothroyd, brought him on for the second half. He pepped up a side who were already threatening with their long-ball counterattacks as Reading pressed to end the stalemate. By the end, however, the home side were reduced to looking for rebounds as a way of breaking down the opposition, and when one finally came, off the defender Jay DeMerit it fell into Foster's hands rather than on to Kitson's head.

While conceding "they were two bad points to lose because we had the clear-cut chances," Coppell praised the courage of Watford. "You don't get much chance to settle, they work so hard."

Boothroyd agreed. "We have stood up today to a terrific team, and at the same time learned a lot. It is no accident they are where they are, but there were times in the second half when we might have gone on and nicked it."