Leaders keep Town at bay

THE Reading players had 'Whatever It Takes' emblazoned on their warm-up T-shirts and they did exactly enough to hold on to top spot by denying an Ipswich side who showed only patches of anywhere near their best.

THE Reading players had 'Whatever It Takes' emblazoned on their warm-up T-shirts and they did exactly enough to hold on to top spot by denying an Ipswich side who showed only patches of anywhere near their best.

Shefki Kuqi gave them an early lead from the direct route which worked more effectively than any intricate play Town produced.

There was little of that in the first half and when Dave Kitson equalised it looked as if the leaders may go on from there.

But the Blues played better in the second half with at least a semblance of getting a passing game going, although it looked as if the Royals were happy to sit back and settle for a point.

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Even with a penalty denied and Marcus Hahnemann making a number of good saves a point was fair enough.

The Blues often flirted with danger, waiting for an offside flag and were under a lot of pressure, especially in the first half.

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The Town midfield were not performing as they can either.

Ipswich started where they left off on Saturday with the side that finished the come-from-behind win over Plymouth and Shefki Kuqi continuing as the goal hero.

Kevin Horlock played a long ball from just outside his own penalty area and the Finn chased on to it.

Royals' keeper Hahnemann left himself exposed running out of his area and failing to deal with the loose ball.

Kuqi was stronger than defender Ivar Ingimarsson and finished quite superbly by hooking his shot into the empty net from 18 yards.

And as promised he followed his fifth goal of the season with his trademark swallow dive.

A quarter-of-an-hour later Kuqi showed the other side of his finishing by ballooning the ball way over the bar.

It proved costly in more ways than one as Reading equalised from the goal-kick.

Hahnemann's long kick fell for Nicky Forster, who played the ball into his strike partner Kitson's path and he took his seventh goal of the season with aplomb.

Reading had taken advantage of central defender Jason De Vos' absence, with the Canadian off the pitch being treated for a cut over his left eye.

The towering defender had been away from the action for seven minutes, with Drissa Diallo covering for him.

Reading were unchanged from the side which beat Watford away on Saturday to go top of the table, and climb to their highest position in their 133-year history.

Kuqi continued to be a menace and was booked for persistent fouling, referee Michael Jones' patience running out on the half hour when Kuqi tugged Adie Williams' shirt.

Moments later the free signing from Sheffield Wednesday a year ago was denied by Hahnemann and Williams, who blocked his attempt to turn in a Darren Bent cross between them and Tommy Miller's follow up shot was blocked by Williams.

That was to be the Reading skipper's last involvement as he limped off to be replaced by Senegalese Under-21 international Ibrahima Sonko.

The Reading keeper pulled off another excellent save two minutes before the break as Kuqi got a firm header on a Horlock corner which was pushed away at the base of a post.

Diallo showed terrific skill to get past Nicky Shorey before crossing for Bent, whose first-time shot was taken by the keeper. The Guinea international also played a terrific through ball into Kuqi's path but the Finn's control let him down.

Diallo had the chance to score his first competitive Ipswich goal but as the ball fell to him in space, he hit his 12-yard angled shot over the bar.

Reading had fewer clear-cut opportunities with first Davis, and then half-time substitute Lewis Price, rarely troubled.

Early on they played a good move through the middle but Kitson was offside.

Midfielder Andy Hughes hit a left foot volley across a crowded box and wide. He had another go a few minutes later when a James Harper free-kick reached him, with the same off-target result.

Steve Sidwell was allowed to go on a 30-yard run, perhaps the Town defence were confident he was going to shoot wide from 20 yards.

Richard Naylor had to be sharp to intercept a Graeme Murty cross following a Matt Richards mistake.

Kuqi almost got on the end of a good low Bent cross straight from the second half kick-off and the young England international was getting some joy down the Town right-hand side, with Miller playing in the hole behind the front two.

De Vos had a header from a Jim Magilton corner tipped over the bar and from the resultant Horlock flag-kick Kuqi's snapshot went straight to the keeper.

The dangerous Finn had a good claim for a penalty turned down when Sonko clearly took one of his legs from under him but the Frenchman timed another tackle perfectly with Kuqi bearing down on goal.

Sonko presumably knew what he was doing when he hit a Bent cross over his own bar but it looked close to being an own goal.

The signing from Brentford was also adept at set-pieces, getting a solid header on a corner but Price was well-positioned and safe.

The young keeper was also well-placed to get behind a Forster shot from a Hughes cross as Reading threatened again late on.

Ian Westlake burst momentarily into life late in the second half but twice, after cutting inside, his shots were off target.

Bent almost climaxed a good game with a goal from a diving header as he got on the end of a Richards cross but it went wide.

All this in front of a disappointing crowd of just a little more than 23,000.

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