Monday 26 February 2018

Reading in box seat as Irish braced for last-act drama

Alex Pearce's Reading know that a victory will guarantee the final play-off place in the Championship. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Alex Pearce's Reading know that a victory will guarantee the final play-off place in the Championship. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It promises to be a tense afternoon for the Irishmen involved in battles at either end of the Championship table today.

The curtain comes down on the second tier with one play-off place up for grabs and one relegated team yet to be decided.

With Derby, QPR and Wigan already through to the play-offs, Reading and Brighton are the only realistic contenders for the final spot, with Blackburn having only the slimmest mathematical chance of getting into the picture.

Alex Pearce's Reading are a point clear of Brighton and welcome already-promoted Burnley to the Madejski Stadium knowing that a victory guarantees them the last place. Ireland manager Martin O'Neill will be in the crowd watching.

The Royals, who also have the out-of-favour Stephen Kelly in their squad, will require a favour from Nottingham Forest if they fall short.

Forest host Brighton at the City Ground, where loan pair Stephen Ward and Keith Andrews will be hoping to help the visitors keep their hopes alive.

At the bottom of the table, Birmingham City need to win at Bolton and results elsewhere to go their way if they are to avoid a disastrous drop to the third tier.

That would be a serious setback for Darren Randolph, who secured a good move to Brum last summer and is their first-choice 'keeper ahead of Colin Doyle.

Ireland U-21 international Callum Reilly has also gained additional experience in a struggling group.

Birmingham sit 22nd, a point behind Paul Keegan's and Enda Stevens' Doncaster, who travel to take on champions Leicester.

Significantly, Birmingham have a better goal difference, so a draw would be enough for them if Donny were to lose.

Millwall are a point further up the table and they host Bournemouth with David Forde, Shaun Williams, Alan Dunne and Owen Garvan in control of their own destiny.

Blackpool are a point ahead of them, and three clear of Birmingham, so Andy Keogh's temporary employers will go down only if the other three win.

Down in League One, Graham Kavanagh is praying for a miracle.

Carlisle are three points from safety and need a four-goal swing today to overhaul 20th-placed Crewe, who are at home to third-placed Preston.

Alas, Kavanagh's side have to pick up their three points at Molineux, where champions Wolves are hosting a promotion party.

Kavanagh also needs a slip-up from 21st-placed Tranmere, who are a point off Crewe and are at home to Bradford.

Irish Independent

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