Reading 2 Wigan 1: Harper's heroics help raise Royals' standard

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The Independent Football

Needs must when the devil drives. Reading's nasty nosedive in form – three defeats, one goal for, eight against – was halted in scrambled fashion on Saturday as they claimed all three points with just 50 seconds remaining.

For that they had to thank the smart instincts of their ginger-haired forward Dave Kitson and the spirited foraging of James Harper, the long-serving midfielder who drives the Berkshire side from midfield now that the powerful presence of Steve Sidwell has been removed to Chelsea. That it should be Harper who guided home the winning goal, after Kitson had elected to pass rather than shoot after cutting in from the right, was entirely fitting, given the way the former Arsenal youth player had striven to keep his side on track after they had lost an early lead.

After their own refreshingly rewarding Premier League debut last term, Steve Coppell's men are now striving to avoid "second-season syndrome", and if they are to continue to punch above their weight it is vital that they retain their confidence.

Stephen Hunt must continue to operate with Keegan-like intensity. Kevin Doyle must continue to shoot on sight. Kitson, despite being a very effective target man, must continue to add the flourishes to his game – backheels, lay-offs – and also maintain the hunger which saw him open Reading's account when he was first to the ball after Chris Kirkland had spilled Doyle's shot.

Another thing which will be required is luck, of which Reading had plenty here. Twice in the final six minutes Wigan had chances to win a game they had levelled five minutes after the break when the Charlton loanee Marcus Bent, filling the gap left by the injured Emile Heskey, scored his first goal for his new club with a powerful header from a corner.

It seemed Bent would produce a final flourish when he broke clear in the 84th minute, but Michael Duberry hunted him down to produce a sliding tackle.

Within a couple of minutes Reading were caught on the break again as the substitute Julius Aghahowa ran free, only to be put off his stride by a lumbering challenge outside the box from Marcus Hahnemann which earned the goalkeeper a booking. Wigan had also felt hard done by a minute after Reading had taken the lead, protesting vehemently for a penalty – which the referee Keith Stroud appeared at one stage to have given – after Jason Koumas' weaving run had been halted by a trip from Ivar Ingimarsson.

Although the Welsh international fell in the box, Stroud, after consulting his linesman, ruled he had been tripped outside it. From the free-kick Koumas suffered further frustration as his effort cannoned away off the underside of the bar.

Then came the intervention by Harper. "It was a massive goal and came at a stage when if anyone was going to win it, it was them," Coppell said. "We were affected by their goal. In the first half we played well but when we scored we lost a bit of an edge."

Goals: Kitson (29) 1-0; Bent (50) 1-1; Harper (90) 2-1.

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Duberry, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Rosenior (Convey, 63), Gunnarsson, Harper, Hunt; Kitson, Doyle (Bikey, 90). Substitutes not used: Federici (gk), Fae, Long.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland; Melchiot, Bramble, Granqvist, Kilbane; Koumas, Brown, Skoko, Scharner; Bent, Sibierski (Aghahowa, 80). Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Boyce, Olembe, Cotterill.

Referee: K Stroud (Hampshire).

Booked: Reading Rosenior, Ingimarsson, Hahnemann; Wigan Athletic Brown.

Man of the match: Harper.

Attendance: 21,379.