Reading at the ready

Rupert Metcalf looks at the play-off teams pursuing the prize of promotion
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THE prospect of Reading earning a place among English football's elite for the first time is not one that overawes those involved in the unassuming Berkshire club.

Having secured the runners-up spot in the First Division ahead of more fancied runners, they might have good reason to protest at being tagged as underdogs in tomorrow's play-off final. However, their opponents, Bolton Wanderers, have a knock-out pedigree second to none outside the top flight, and they have already played at Wembley once this season, in the Coca-Cola Cup final.

Bolton can boast of international performers like Jason McAteer, John McGinlay and Mixu Paatelainen, plus the much-coveted central defender Alan Stubbs, fit again after a calf injury. Reading know that they are not tipped to win and - if they do confound the bookies and beat Bolton - that they will be even bigger favourites to come straight back down again. However, they are not lacking in confidence and determination.

"We're not naive enough to think we're going to storm the Premiership if we beat Bolton, but we could hold our own," Jimmy Quinn, Reading's joint player-manager, said. "We're a better side than the likes of Leicester and Ipswich."

Although Quinn, the veteran Northern Ireland centre- forward, is likely to be on the substitutes' bench, Reading will still have two international starters: the Wales defender Adrian Williams and the experienced Pole Dariusz Wdowczyk, once of Celtic. Underdogs they may be, but they are not lacking in bite.

Today's Second Division final also provides a contrast: between Huddersfield Town, whose home is the elegant new Alfred McAlpine Stadium, and Bristol Rovers, lodgers at ramshackle Twerton Park, in Bath. The Yorkshire side, with their England Under-21 international Andrew Booth leading the front line, have the ability to earn their manager Neil Warnock his third Wembley play-off final triumph.

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