In the end, it was the Championship party Reading deserved, as they put an insipid first half behind them to blow away Derby in the second. A doze became a gleeful rout that, with Sheffield United slipping up against Stoke, was enough to confirm them as champions, something that had been in doubt only to mathematicians and extreme pessimists.
There had been warnings to keep off the pitch after the final whistle, but a first promotion to the top flight is not to be celebrated with an anodyne lap of honour in front of fans calmly standing in their places. Understandably, exuberance led to a pitch invasion, and Reading's players ended up taking their applause from a position midway up the Main Stand.
Since it was spontaneous, it somehow felt all the more joyous. "It doesn't matter how many cans of lager I force into myself," the Reading manager, Steve Coppell, said, "it's that moment standing on the terrace overlooking all those people - that's the reason you play the game."
All that remains for Reading now is Sunderland's all-time points record of 105. In that regard they may yet come to regret the minor stutter that had seen them draw their three previous games. As it is, they need 11 points from their final five games to surpass the mark set by Peter Reid's side in 1998-99.
After their extraordinary play-off final defeat to Charlton Athletic in 1997-98, Sunderland then had a point to prove, a desire not merely to go up, but to prove that they had spent a season in the wrong division. They were helped, too, by the fact that they sewed up promotion two games later than Reading, but their desire for validation was still strong enough to carry them to 10 points from their final four games.
Whether Reading harbour that same hunger remains to be seen - Coppell spoke merely of "being fair to the League" and "other sides depending on us to perform" - but there was little sign of it before half-time yesterday when they seemed to be luxuriating in a post-hangover somnolence.
Just as well, perhaps, that Marcus Hahnemann had, as Graeme Murty revealed, been prevented from attending promotion celebrations when his wife "put her very petite foot down", as the American goalkeeper made a couple of sharp saves.
Perhaps there were cold showers or black coffees all round at half-time, or maybe it was simply the blast of Coppell's tongue, but Reading came out reinvigorated. "The second-half performance reflected what we've been about all season," Coppell said. "It was in stark contrast to the attempted exhibition stuff of the first half."
James Harper got the first on 59 minutes, bundling past Adam Bolder before smacking a decisive finish into the top corner. The first breach made, the goals flooded in. Kevin Doyle headed a second from Bobby Convey's cross, before the substitutes - appropriately - took over.
Coppell paid tribute to the "selflessness" of those who had been "supportive without being disruptive", and they filled their boots, John Oster sidefooting the third, before Shane Long helped himself to two more. It was, as Coppell said, "a fitting way to do it".Reuse content