Reading 2 Wigan 1: Harper saves light Reading

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The Independent Football

Reading's chances of avoiding the dreaded "second-season syndrome" will turn on results like this – a fortunate victory scrambled in the final minute. And their manager, Steve Coppell, having seen his side's season slump with three successive defeats, was happy to settle for it.

Until the midfielder James Harper turned in Dave Kitson's pass with only 50 seconds left on the clock, it looked as if the home side would be settling for a point which they might well have lost in the final five minutes as Wigan created two clear scoring opportunities.

The first fell to Marcus Bent, making his first start since joining from Charlton on loan, and was thwarted by a perfectly timed tackle by Michael Duberry. The second saw the substitute Julius Aghahowa break clear only to be put off his stride by a blatant trip outside the box by the keeper Marcus Hahnemann.

The impetus, and opportunity, were soon lost – although Hahnemann was booked, no free-kick was awarded. The keeper did go into the book deep into added time, for rebuffing an unwise effort by Wigan's Titus Bramble to push him out of the way to collect a loose ball. By then, however, Reading were finally assured of a victory that steered them back up the table.

"We needed that desperately," Coppell admitted. "There's no use trying to hide it. There are times when the victory is more important than the manner of the victory. We are out of the bottom three, it's pleasant."

Coppell had described this as a "massive" game against a team whose recent experiences – an excellent first season in the Premier League followed by a desperate struggle to stay up – provide a chilling template for the team who followed them up from the Championship. In the event, the performance of Reading's players, though spirited, was far from monumental.

"At the moment we are doing all right without being convincing," Coppell said. "That's the difference, whatever it is, from last season. No one is setting the world on fire. You can't make a case for saying anyone really played a top game."

In fairness, the indefatigable Harper came close to that description, particularly when the match appeared to have swung Wigan's way when Bent had headed home a 50th-minute equaliser from a corner. Reading had gone ahead after 29 minutes when Kevin Doyle's speculative shot had been grievously spilled by Chris Kirkland – that England career still looks optimistic – and Kitson had arrived in a ginger flash to turn the loose ball over the line.

Within a minute there was uproar at the other end as Wigan claimed Jason Koumas's mazy run had been ended by Ivar Ingimarsson in the box. The referee, after consulting the linesman, rightly adjudged it was outside the area, although Koumas almost made that count as his free-kick bounced off the underside of the bar.

Wigan's manager Chris Hutchings was sportmanship itself afterwards, applauding the referee for his decision on the penalty and then refusing to condemn Aghahowa for trying to stay on his feet. His side are due some luck very soon.