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00:17 14th April 2012

Royals three clear after superb victory

Southampton 1 (Lambert 47)
Reading 3 (Roberts 19, Le Fondre 72, 90)

Reading earned a sensational 3-1 win away to Southampton, leapfrogging the Saints to go 3-1 clear at the top of the npower Championship.

Promotion to the Premier League remains fully in the Royals' hands and could come as soon as Tuesday's night home game with Nottingham Forest.

There is still work to be done, but Reading's form since the first six games of the season has put them in an incredible position.

The key moment of this game did not just come when the ball hit the back of the net, but when Brian McDermott made an attacking change on 64 minutes to bring on Adam Le Fondre for Jay Tabb. At 1-1 away to the League leaders, many managers would have settled, but not McDermott, and Le Fondre paid him back a million times over by scoring twice.

It was simply a great night to be a Reading fan. No away team had scored three goals at St Mary's this season, and although Southampton led the game's possession, beating Adam Federici and his back four is far easier said than done, and in fact the Saints only did so with the aid of deflection.

There were so many heroes on the night. Jimmy Kebe for his assists, Federici for his saves, Jason Roberts for a performance of mammoth proportions, McDermott for his sheer bravery, and Le Fondre for his goals.

Tuesday night just cannot come soon enough.

Southampton (4-4-2): Davis; Butterfield, Fox, Fonte, Hooiveld; Cork, Hammond (c) (Do Prado 74), Chaplow (De Ridder 53), Lallana; Lambert, Sharp.
Subs: Martin, Richardson, Harding.
Booked: Chaplow (foul 36)

Reading (4-4-2): Federici; Cummings, Harte, Gorkss, Pearce; Mullins, Tabb (Le Fondre 64), Kebe, McAnuff (c); Hunt, Roberts (Afobe 77).
Subs: McCarthy, Gunnarsson, Church.

Attendance: 31,892 (3,145 away)

Ref: M Dean.

Starting XI team news:
Reading made one change, Jay Tabb back from injury and into central midfield. Tomasz Cywka therefore missed out. Mikele Leigertwood, Matthew Connolly, Hal Robson-Kanu, Jem Karacan and Mikkel Andersen were all injured.

First half:
Rickie Lambert was first to have a sight of goal, but he was pushed a bit too wide to get a true contact. Adam Federici's save wasn't completely clean but was more than good enough.

Alex Pearce then defended very well inside his own box, allowing Jason Roberts to spring forward with a great turn but our number 33 couldn't find Noel Hunt. A moment later Hunt had half a penalty shout but there was not too much content from Jos Hooiveld.

On 12 minutes Pearce had half a chance from a corner but headed over, before Shaun Cummings had to defend well inside his own box. We then had plenty more defending to do from the resulting corner, and could have had a couple of free kicks before Federici had to make a great low save from a deflected effort.

The Australian then saved nicely from Adam Lallana; the hosts having made a bright start. And once more Federici was needed on 18 minutes, saving brilliantly from Lambert's bullet header.

So it was the Saints who had done all the pressing, but it was Reading who took the lead.

Jobi McAnuff nicked possession in midfield, and played sideways to Hayden Mullins, who in turn showed excellent feet to find Jimmy Kebe. But if McAnuff and Mullins had done well, Kebe went one better and supplied a magnificent cross that Roberts powered home with a bullet header.

Both the creation and execution of the goal were magnificent.

As the half reached its midway point - already packed with action - Lallana produced a beautiful turn and chip that Federici did very well to tip over. From the corner, Saints had a decent chance too.

Billy Sharp went to ground looking for a spot kick just before the half hour, but referee Mike Dean rightly gave nothing - the contact was minimal and didn't warrant a reaction.

It certainly wasn't a cagey affair despite the prize at stake, and Hunt put in a brilliant cross that was very close to finding Kebe at the back post.

Federici was soon out smartly at Richard Chaplow's feet, and the Saints man was booked for catching our 'keeper on the follow-through.

You couldn't take your eye off it for a second, and Pearce again won the header on a Harte free kick but the home defence smothered.

Then Lambert had a real chance with a header as the game entered first half injury time. He nodded wide when everyone in the ground expected him to do better. And so Reading went in at half time ahead, knowing they have the best record in the division once taking the lead.

Second half:
But two minutes after the restart Saints were back on terms.

A throw-in from their left was worked to Lambert, who powered home. It took a cruel deflection, but our defending was not up to our usual standards, for once.

Roberts then forced Kelvin Davis into a brave sliding tackle - had he not got a touch on the ball then his follow-through might have resulted in a penalty for us.

Chaplow then hit a near-post effort that was off target but Federici had to make sure, and the resulting corner flashed across our box. Saints had a head of steam.

But, Roberts then showed good feet to get in a deep cross that had Saints backpedalling. His hold-up play had been a key asset in blue and white.

The former Blackburn man then went on a charge forward but was denied by a good Steve De Ridder challenge, the substitute tracking back well.

Since scoring, Saints had a good spell of pressure, and when Lallana had a decent headed chance at the back post Cummings again did enough.

And it just seemed the tide was turning against the home side.

A few minutes before Lallana's chance Brian McDermott had made a bold attacking change - with Jay Tabb coming off, he could easily have settled for a point with a safer replacement, but instead brought on Adam Le Fondre - and on such moments games can change.

With 19 minutes left, Le Fondre combined nicely with Hunt, and our number 9 found Kebe inside the box. The Malian supplied a perfect cutback, and after a lovely Hunt dummy Le Fondre turned home a brilliant top corner finish.

It was a lovely goal and as Le Fondre slid to the floor in front of our 3,000 fans it was a joy to behold. Importantly, Reading then had a good spell of possession.

De Ridder tried to break that with a nice run, and his shot came off the chest of Federici. Le Fondre then almost pinched the ball off the toe of Davis as he dithered in his six yard box.

And as the board was shown for four additional minutes, Le Fondre pinched another goal. Absolutely sensational stuff, and another reward, both for the striker's persistence, and McDermott's brave decision to bring him on.

This team can never be underestimated - and it is a team in every sense.
    Data provided by Press Association