Hahnemann posts two shutouts, Reading has Sunday shot for promotion to Premier League.
By Robert Wagman (in Washington, D.C.)
(Tuesday, April 28, 2009) -- Resurgent Reading will play Sunday for automatic promotion back to the English Premier League, thanks to a pair of shutout victories.
Twice in the last week, American goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann and his defense turned in clean sheets for 2-0 decisions in the second-tier League Championship. Last night, Shane Long provided goals in the 68th and 78th minutes to down host Norwich City.
Hahnemann slammed the door with seven saves and a solid evening controlling his penalty area.
Last Tuesday, Reading took full advantage of its game in hand by defeating Derby County 2-0 on the road at Pride Park. Hahnemann made nine saves in another strong performance.
He played particularly well late, pushing a hard shot from Rob Hulse around the post in the 75th minute and stretching out to direct a Kris Commons shot intended for a top corner over the crossbar three minutes later. Unlike so many recent matches in which the Royals failed to score, this time Dave Kitson scored in the 56th minute and Shane Long added to the lead in the 73rd.
Reading (21-10-14, 77 points) jumped into fourth place, but only three points behind second-place Birmingham City (22-9-14), its opponent in Sunday's season finale at home at Madejeski Stadium. Should Reading prevail and third-place Sheffield United draw or lose, Reading would tie Birmingham, but capture second place and the second and final automatic promotion berth by goal differential.
Sheffield United (22-10-13) has 79 points and if it wins at Crystal Palace Sunday, Reading would be denied automatic promotion. Should Sheffield lose at Crystal Palace, a Reading victory would vault the Royals into second place. A United draw and Reading victory would create a three-way tie which Reading would win by goal differential.
The worst Reading can finish is in fourth place which would put it at home in the second match of a two-game promotion semifinal series.
U.S. striker Eddie Johnson has been appearing in a reserve role for Cardiff City. On Saturday, he came on in the 76th minute of a 3-0 home loss to Ipswich Town. Last Tuesday, he entered in the 83rd minute, a minute after Chris Burke scored and six minutes before Gabor Gyepes found net to erase a two-goal deficit and draw 2-2 with host Charlton Athletic.
With one match remaining, Cardiff (19-9-17) is in fifth place with 74 points and would clinch a playoff berth with at least a draw Sunday at Sheffield Wednesday. Burnley (20-12-13) trails by one point and Preston North End (20-14-11) by three in the three-way race for the final two playoff berths.
U.S. defender Jay DeMerit went the distance for Watford in a 3-2 win Saturday at Coventry City.
Watford (15-20-10) is in 15th place with 55 points.
American defender Frank Simek remains injured and was not dressed for Sheffield Wednesday's 1-1 tie Saturday at Bristol City. Wednesday is tied for 12th place at 15-17-13 with 58 points.
Fulham's promotion hopes on life support
As the Premier League winds down, Fulham (12-11-11, 47 points) appears to have fallen just short of the new second-tier Europa League despite a 1-0 triumph Saturday over visiting Stoke City.
With U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey going 90 minutes, Fulham was solid on defense, but appears destined to finish seventh with a 12-11-11 mark and 47 points with two matches left.
U.S. keeper Tim Howard conceded goals to Robinho in the 35th minute and Stephen Ireland in the 54th minute, and struggling Everton (14-9-11, 53) fell 2-1 at Manchester City. Everton is in sixth place with its attendant Europa League entry. Fulham, with two victories, could catch Everton, if it dropped its final two, but Everton currently holds an advantage of six in goal differential, the first tiebreaker should the clubs remain even,
Aston Villa (15-9-10) is in fifth place with 55 points and can do no worse than sixth and qualify for the Europa League. American keeper Brad Friedel turned in a strong performance in a 1-1 tie at Bolton Wanderers Saturday.
U.S. defender Jonathan Spector dressed, but did not play for host West Ham United in a 1-0 loss to Chelsea. West Ham is in eight place at 12-13-9 with 45 points.
In the third-division League One, American forward Mike Grella came on in the final 10 minutes for Leeds United in a 1-0 decision at Hartlepool.
Leeds is 25-14-6 with 81 points and in fifth place, good enough to participate in the four-club promotion playoffs.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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