Reading progress without alarm

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The Independent Online
Reading 0

Tranmere Rovers 0

(Reading win 3-1 on aggregate)

Even over the course of 124 years there have been few opportunities to make whoopee on the Reading pitch, and even fewer visits to Wembley. Last night, at the conclusion of two impressive performances, the supporters of this homely club came on in droves, a place in the First Division play-off final theirs to celebrate.

Undoubtedly Bolton carry more big-game experience; only two months ago they had a taste of Wembley's mystical ways in the Coca-Cola Cup. But let no one underestimate Reading. Unheralded as a potential Premiership forced during the campaign, they nevertheless believe they are going places - and it could just put them among football's establishment and elite.

The serious business had been completed at Prenton Park on Sunday. Last night at Elm Park, Reading just had to remain composed and disciplined to see the job through. Though there was tension because of the prize at stake, it was no more difficult than that.

This was the third successive year that Tranmere had stumbled at this stage. They never showed the conviction that fate would be kinder to them this time round and Tony Thomas's sending off six minutes from time for two fouls summed up their night.

John King had made Eric Nixon and Liam O'Brien pay for the decisive home defeat, Nixon omitted for the first time in his seven years at the Merseyside club. However, Danny Coyne aquitted himself splendidly and was to come between Tranmere and a second defeat.

The first occasion was when Lee Nogan supplied Mick Gooding in the 27th minute, and his shot cannoned to safety off the goalkeeper's legs. In the second half, Scott Taylor's buccaneering run past three defenders met a similar fate - but it never looked as if those misses would prove crucial. Tranmere had huff and puff and brute force, but this was a tired performance from a side drained from the effort of a long hard season.

Only when O'Brien replaced Pat Nevin did they suggest they could prey on Reading's nerves. Following his incisive low pass, John Aldridge was set up for a shooting opportunity but eventually he lost control of the ball and with it went the chance. Shortly after the enduring striker got his boot under another chance and over the bar it went.

The final whistled brought on the fans, long starved of success and who were watching Second Division football only a year ago. Out came the champagne. It was as if promotion had already been achieved.

But in itself this is a magnificent success for a club which has outgrown its modest surrounds. Now the squad will go to Lanzarote to prepare for Wembley. "I've told the players if anyone is sober when they get on the plane they will be in trouble," said Mick Gooding, one half of their management team, and he was not joking.

Reading (5-3-2): Hislop; Bernal, McPherson, Wdowczyk, Williams (Hopkins, 17) Gilkes; Taylor, Osborn, Gooding; Nogan, Lovell (Quinn, 76). Substitute not used: Sheppard (gk).

Tranmere Rovers (3-4-3): Coyne; Thomas, McGreal, Stevens; Mungall, Irons, Nevin (O'Brien, 49), Brannan; Morrissey, Aldridge, Malkin (Jones, 83). Substitute not used: Nixon (gk).

Referee: P Alcock (Redhill).

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