(Sunday, March 23, 2008) -- American Marcus Hahnemann is the busiest goalkeeper in the English Premier League and Reading is thankful for his labor.
Hahnemann, whose 213 saves are the most in the EPL, stopped eight shots Saturday for the Royals who defeated visiting Birmingham City 2-1 at Madejski Stadium, adding three crucial points in their effort to put distance on the relegation zone.
Reading was promoted to the Premier League after its record-breaking dominance of the second-tier League Championship in 2005-06. The Royals finished eighth in their debut in the top league, but seemed to be succumbing to the sophomore jinx that many sides suffer in their second season after joining in the EPL, often leading to a return to the second division.
Reading languished in the relegation zone for some time before winning three of its last four games, allowing it to climb into a tie with Wigan Athletic (8-16-7) for 14th place at 9-18-4 with 31 points, five points clear of the drop zone with seven matches remaining.
The Premier League "magic number" to avoid relegation is said to be 40 points. "It doesn't matter when you get the points, you just have to get them," Royals manager Steve Coppell said. "I've said all along we're capable of getting 40 and that's still the case. We have seven games left, so the ball is still in our court."
On Saturday, Andre Bikey scored twice and Hahnemann was solid in downing Birmingham. Hahnemann made a nice effort to deny Gary McSheffrey and he elevated to control a dangerous Liam Ridgewell cross.
Reading's modest two-match winning streak came to an end a week earlier when the Royals fell 2-1 at Liverpool, which had just come off a 1-0 defeat of host Inter Milan in the European Champions League..
Reading did lead early on a stunning 20-yard strike from Marek Matejovsky in the fifth minute. Hahnemann was his usual reliable self in goal, but could not stop Javier Mascherano's equally compelling equalizer in the 19th minute.
Fernando Torres put Liverpool ahead just after the break when he was left unmarked to head a free kick just beyond Hahnemann's reach in the 48th minute. Reading felt it should have been awarded a late penalty when Steven Gerrard used an outstretched arm to stop a ball heading for the Liverpool net, but the referee shook his head no.
Hahnemann made five saves March 8 for his fifth clean sheet in a 2-0 decision over Manchester City at Madejski Stadium.
Hahnemann started Reading's escape from the drop zone March 1 with his performance in a 1-0 triumph at Middlebrough. In the 41st minute, Middlesbrough striker Afonso Alves drove a free kick over the defensive wall and toward a corner of the net when Hahnemann laid out full length for the critical save.
James Harper provided the Royals the game-winner in stoppage time to snap a six-match league losing streak and 10-game winless (0-8-2) stretch.
U.S. midfielder Bobby Convey continues to be a mystery at Reading. The week before the United States' February 6 match against Mexico in Houston, Convey came out of a Reading game after injuring his surgically repaired knee. The club announced it was likely he would need additional surgery, but Convey flew to Houston. After having the knee drained, he was able to play 69 minutes against Mexico in the 2-2 draw.
Then it was announced he was delaying his return to England to have his damaged knee re-examined by his surgeon and since his return to Reading, Convey has not dressed for a first-team match. He did go 90 minutes for Reading's reserves in a 2-1 midweek loss to West Ham United and seemed to be running without a problem.
U.S. keeper Tim Howard made three saves for Everton, which responded to a surprising 1-0 road loss to lowly Fulham with a 1-1 draw Saturday at home with West Ham United to defeat host Sunderland 1-0
In the first half, Howard made a remarkable stop of Dean Ashton's 20-yard free kick which was redirected on the way to goal.
After Ashton tied the match at 1-1 in the 68th minute, United's Fred Sears was sent in free on Howard, who responded with a save of the resulting shot from a sharp angle.
In the closing 10 minutes, Sears stripped Eevrton defender Phil Jagielka, but Howard reacted quickly to snag the ball.
After helping the U.S. under-23 men defeat Canada 3-0 Wednesday, defender Jonathan Spector came off the West Ham bench to replace Scott Parker in the 82nd minute.
Prior to the Fulham loss, Everton completed a stretch of earning 23 of 30 points in a 10-match span by edging host Sunderland 1-0 at Stadium of Light. Howard turned in seven saves to make Andrew Johnson's disputed 55th-minute goal -- it seemed to come off his arm -- stand up.
A week earlier, Howard faced only two shots on goal -- and let one by -- in an easy 3-1 decision over visiting Portsmouth. Howard was not called upon to do much, while Ayegbeni Yakubu had a pair of goals for the victors.
Everton (17-8-6, 57) is in fifth place. With a seven-point lead on Portsmouth, (14-9-8), the Toffees are certain to do no worse than a berth in next season's UEFA Cup, but would like to catch Liverpool (16-4-11, 59) for fourth place and a spot in the Champions League qualifying round.
U.S. keeper Brad Friedel was impressive, as he usually is, making 13 saves to help Blackburn Rovers defeat Wigan 3-1, despite playing a man down for most of the match .
Rovers lost Christopher Samba to a 17th-minute red card for bringing down Emile Heskey, leading to Marlon King's successful penalty kick and a 1-1 tie. Blackburn's Paraguay striker Roque Santa Cruz scored twice and Jason Roberts added another tally for the victory.
Rovers' hopes to catch Everton or Liverpool to garner a UEFA Cup invitation took a blow March 15 with a 2-1 setback to host West Ham at Upton Park. Blackburn went up early on a goal from Santa Cruz, but Ashton beat Friedel in the 39th minute and Sears tallied the winner in the 81st.
That loss followed a disappointing 1-1 draw March 8 at home with Fulham
Friedel started the month with a sensational 12-save shutout at Newcastle United March 1. Matt Derbyshire netted the decisive tally in the closing seconds.
England striker Michael Owen came closest for the home team when he rounded Friedel with about 10 minutes left in the first half, but under pressure from the retreating keeper, fired wide. Twice in the second half, Friedel stopped dangerous shots by Owen.
Spector played 90 minutes for United before departing for Nashville and Olympic qualifying.
Blackburn (13-8-10, 49) is in a three-way tie for seventh place. West Ham (12-11-8, 44) sits in 10th place.
U.S. midfielder Eddie Lewis has been back in the starting lineup for cellar-dwelling Derby County for four games, but there was nothing he could do to stem the futility The Rams dropped three matches in the space of 10 days, ending with Saturday's 1-0 setback to Middlesbrough.
On March 15, Derby played league-leading Manchester United tough at home but fell 1-0 on a Cristiano Ronaldo goal in the 76th minute. Three days earlier, Chelsea routed visiting County 6-1.
Lewis returned to the starting 11 March 1 in a 0-0 draw with visiting Sunderland, which had an apparent goal disallowed on a close offside call and had a shot cleared off the goal-line by Derby second-half substitute Hossam Ghaly.
Lewis, who has been somewhat at odds with team trainers over the extent of a lingering knee injury, went the distance against Sunderland, charged with four fouls and issued a yellow card.
Out-of-favor U.S. midfielder Benny Feilhaber was on the bench as a backup in an injury-depleted midfield.
Derby (1-23-7, 10) is close to mathematically being guaranteed of relegation.
DeMerit regains fitness, Watford starting job
In the English League Championship, U.S. defender Jay DeMerit went the distance in a pair of draws for Watford, which has seen its hopes for automatic promotion back into the Premier League hit a rough patch. Seven straight draws have dropped the Hornets from first place into a tie for third.
The top two teams are automatically promoted to the Premier League, where Watford spent a single season in 2006-07. The third-through-sixth-place teams compete in a playoff for a third promotion.
Stoke is in first place at 18-8-14 with 68 points, one point ahead of Bristol City (18-9-13). Watford, at 17-8-14 with 65 points, has a game in hand on both teams, as well as Hull, which also has 65 points at (18-11-11). West Bromwich Albion is still in the thick of the race at 18-11-9 with 63 points, but has played one less game than Watford and two less than the others
The Hornets defense was tough in a 1-1 draw Saturday, conceding host Plymouth only nine shots, four on frame. A week earlier Watford was stifling in back, not allowing Stoke even one shot in a 0-0 draw. In fact, the Hornets have not allowed as many as 10 shots by any of its last four opponents, just nine (six on goal) in a 0-0 tie March 11 at Bristol City and three (two on goal) in a 1-1 draw March 4 with visiting Norwich.
Unfortunately, the Watford attack was no more potent than its opponents in these contests, but still is undefeated in its last 11 games (3-0-8).
DeMerit, battling back from a groin injury, went the distance in the last three outings.
American defender Frank Simek remains on the long-term injury list at Sheffield Wednesday, having not played for several weeks because of a bad ankle. Wednesday has played two straight draws, including Saturday's 2-2 tie with Crystal Palace, following two victories as it tries to claw its way out of the relegation zone.
At 12-18-8 with 44 points, Wednesday is in 22nd place and the relegation zone, but has a game in hand on Leicester City (10-16-14), which is safe at the moment in 21st place because its goal differential is five better than Sheffield.
Gibbs called to U.S. camp
U.S. defender Cory Gibbs is slowly rounding back into condition after missing almost a year following surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Last week, Gibbs played in a reserve match for Charlton Athletic and he has been called into the U.S. training camp for Wednesday's match against host Poland at Stadion Wisly in Kraków.