Royals leave King to rue his tactics

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Tranmere Rovers 1

Reading 3

Tranmere Rovers tried to outwit Reading yesterday in their First Division play-off match with tactical switches which went horribly awry. They were a goal down after nine minutes and worse was to come when John King, the Tranmere manager, decided to play with three at the back midway through the second half.

Within six minutes of taking off Tony Thomas and bringing Ged Brannan into the midfield, Lee Nogan added Reading's second. And Tranmere's confused rearguard, or what was left of it, knew little about the visitors' third goal nine minutes from time. "I'm disappointed because that was my team out there," King said. "Basically now we've got to do virtually the impossible away from home."

To concentrate on Tranmere's deficiencies, most notably in midfield, neglects to give credit to an impressive performance by Reading, who surprised everyone with a late run of form that saw them finish second in the division.

"We couldn't have asked anymore of the lads," said Jimmy Quinn, the joint player-manager of Reading. "We knew we had the pace and power to upset their defence and we proved we have the aggression. Now we have to ensure the players keep their minds on the job. There can be no room for complacency."

Early nerves were eased when Stuart Lovell fired Reading into the lead after Thomas had screwed an attempted headed clearance into Nogan's path. He cut the ball across the box and Lovell took his time with a right-footed effort that cleared Eric Nixon in goal.

Rovers equalised six minutes later with a spectacularly worked goal. The winger, John Morrissey, rode a no-nonsense tackle, steamed forward and his perfect cross from the right was met with an equally exquisite header by Chris Malkin.

Although both sides had chances to take the lead, Reading always had the upper hand. Nogan played a neat one-two with Simon Osborne before firing past Nixon on 75 minutes.

The goalkeeper then got a hand to Mick Gooding's 81st-minute shot, but Lovell was unmarked as he followed up to simply tap home the third.

Tranmere Rovers (4-4-2): Nixon; Stevens, Thomas (Brannan, 68) McGreal, Garnett; O'Brien, Morrissey, Aldridge, Malkin; Irons, Nevin. Substitutes not used: Jones, Coyne (gk).

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

Referee: J Kirkby (Sheffield).