West Bromwich 1 Reading 1: Doyle is spot-on as Reading's class earns second bite

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The Independent Football

It's not only in the Coca-Cola Championship that Reading are showing their worth. In a dress rehearsal for the bigger stage that awaits them next season, the second grade's runaway pacesetters were more than comfortable in securing this second bite of a Premiership cherry.

A miserable contest came alive only in the latter stages with a successful penalty apiece in the space of three minutes.

Zoltan Gera, the Hungarian midfielder recently back from hernia surgery, seemed to have won it for West Bromwich Albion with an emphatic conversion after his right-wing cross had brought a nudge by Chris Makin on Geoff Horsfield.

But Martin Albrechtsen then needlessly handled a harmless 83rd-minute header by Ivar Ingimarsson from Makin's long diagonal centre. There were no protests and Kevin Doyle, like Gera and Horsfield introduced to the "action" from the bench, despatched his 12th goal of the season with confidence.

"Dave Kitson takes our penalties but had come off and Kevin put the kick away well," said the Reading manager Steve Coppell. "We played a full part in the game but the tie is put to bed now because we have got 18 cup finals left in the League."

Quite how much either side wanted an extra game in this competition is debatable but it often looked on the cards, shorn as the tie was of key men. In a telling sign of the FA Cup times, Coppell opted for "rotation", resting six players while Albion made four changes, one of them the recall of Chris Kirkland for his first game since 23 October after injury and substitute duty.

League football, in which Reading stand unbeaten in 27 games, suggests there is not much between the teams, and so it proved.

Kirkland raced from his line to block well with his foot after Stephen Hunt had played Dave Kitson clear. At the other end, Graham Stack, making his first Reading start since signing permanently from Arsenal, reacted sharply to save when Curtis Davies diverted goalwards an astute pass by Kanu.

But the deadlock was most threatened in the 13th minute, when only the slippy surface, caused by a first-half snowfall, denied the Premiership side. Brynjar Gunnarsson's attempted clearance struck Nathan Ellington and looped over Stack against the inside of the post. Ellington arrived first at the loose ball, apparently certain to apply the finishing touch but, only six yards out and with the net gaping, comically lost his footing.

Just occasionally, Kanu promised to stir the frozen faithful in his last game before following club colleague Diomansy Kamara to the African Nations Cup - and sent a skidding 25-yarder narrowly wide.

Until the late goals, not even a flurry of substitutions made the difference, Bryan Robson making a double switch and Reading introducing their record signing Leroy Lita.

By all accounts, the Albion manager was peeling the paint from the walls with criticism of his players after the game and it was left to his No 2 Nigel Pearson to say: "Even when you aren't playing well, you should see it through after taking the lead as late as we did. Bryan has told the players that that level of performance is not acceptable."

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