Behind 2 Americans Reading Looks Set to Reach English Premier League for 1st Time in 135 Years

READING England (AP) - Reading looks certain to reach the top flight of English soccer for the first time in its 135-year history.

The Royals haven't lost in the Football League Championship since the opening day of the season and its 30-match unbeaten streak has given the team a seven-point lead over second-place Sheffield United.

More importantly Reading leads third-place Leeds by 19 points.

Bookmaker William Hill stopped taking bets on Reading getting promoted when the odds went down to 1-7 - despite 15 games remaining in the season.

The top two teams in the division get promoted automatically with the next four reaching the playoffs for another spot in the English Premier League.

"I don't think anyone expected it Reading midfielder Bobby Convey said. "I don't think anyone expected us to not lose since the first game of the season."

The United States international isn't taking anything for granted however.

"You never want to get ahead of yourself Convey added. "People are looking at promotion and saying how easy it's going to be for us but obviously you are just going to jinx yourself if you go too far ahead. There's no point in talking about it until it actually happens."

Since losing to Plymouth 2-1 in their season opener the Royals are 23-7-0. The team's only other loss was to Arsenal in the League Cup.

Reading is a city with a population of 144000 and is 64 kilometers (40 miles) west of London. It is famous mainly for its yearly rock music festival.

Formed in 1871 Reading is the third-oldest club in England. It's best chance of promotion was in 1995 when it finished second.

While that would normally guarantee promotion a decrease in Premier League clubs from 22 to 20 meant the club had to go through the playoffs. Reading squandered a 2-0 lead in the playoff final and lost to Bolton 4-2 in extra time.

Three years later Reading moved from the 15000-capacity Elm Park to the newly built 24700-seat Madejski Stadium.

The venue is named after its millionaire publisher-owner John Madejski who took over in 1990 when Reading was in the third division.

This season Reading started off as a 25-1 shot to win the League Championship. Last year the team was leading the league at this point in the season but went 11 games without a win and missed out on the playoffs.

Manager Steve Coppell who took over at Reading in October 2003 wanted an answer for his team's collapse.

"At the end of last season we had an inquest into what went wrong and we decided that goals were the main issue Coppell said. "That was the big stumbling block for us. Last year we scored 51 goals in 46 games which was not enough."

Coppell is a rarity in England.

He studied Economics at Liverpool University while playing for Manchester United in the 1970s and 80s and often trained by himself. He retired when he was 28 in 1983 with a knee injury picked up in his 42nd and final England game.

Coppell also managed Crystal Palace at various times from 1984 to 1997 getting the club promoted to the top flight in 1989 and into the Premier League in 1997.

To combat the lack of goalscoring after last season Coppell bought England under-21 international Leroy Lita and Kevin Doyle to play alongside leading scorer Dave Kitson. Convey and fellow winger Glen Little have also contributed to the 66 goals scored in the league so far.

"The goals were the big difference but allied to that what was a very competitive defense last year has become even more frugal and they've performed terrifically well Coppell said. "So the combination of both has worked wonders."

The defense is led by United States goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann who has 18 shutouts this season. Hahnemann who is expected to make the U.S. World Cup squad alongside Kasey Keller and Tim Howard has been at Reading since 2002.

Reading didn't lose any players during January's transfer window something Hahnemann has mixed feelings about.

"Not one team has come in and bought a player from us which is great for us he said. "Still the fact that nobody left ... it's like we're still not getting the respect. It seems like people think we're not very good. It's a bit frustrating."

Reading aims to extend its unbeaten streak when it plays last-place Crewe on Saturday.

"If you start thinking how great next year is going to be you're going to lose sight of what's really important and that's beating Crewe Hahnemann said. "Teams can still catch us. We need to concentrate on that."

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