Football League Expert & Columnist
Peter Beagrie says Reading are storming towards the top flight, ahead of their trip to Leeds.
Last Updated: 21/04/11 2:20pm
I feel fortunate and privileged to be working on a humongous game at Elland Road on Good Friday.
It's a game between the teams in fourth and sixth in the Championship, but Reading's amazing form means this could have as much bearing on the automatic places as it does on the play-off race. The Royals have taken 24 points out of 24 and with four games to go they are charging towards a second-placed finish.
I felt Brian McDermott deserved to win Manager of the Month in March when they'd won three out of three games, but he surely deserves the April award after a maximum return in their five matches so far.
His team has played in such a relaxed manner this year. He has deployed some senior players to lead by example, but has encouraged his younger talent to go out and express themselves. He won't lose faith if they have one bad game and he's created an environment in which they can flourish.
You can see he respects the players and they respect him. I think a level of trust developed when he was the youth team coach and that has resulted in some incredible performances as those players mature in the first team.
I can't give him enough praise for the job he's done because nobody expected Reading to have a chance of returning to the Premier League this year. They spent a couple of seasons among the elite between 2006 and 2008 - and didn't look out of place - but none of the football pundits were tipping them at the start of this season.
Yet they've emerged as genuine candidates after an astonishing two months and I wouldn't argue with anybody describing them as the favourites for that second automatic spot.
You wouldn't be surprised if they won the rest of their games - against Leeds, Sheffield United, Coventry and Derby - and it looks like a nice run-in on paper. But of course we all know that football isn't played on paper - Scunthorpe's win over QPR was proof of that.
You can make also make a case for Cardiff, Swansea and Norwich finishing second. I have always felt Cardiff have the best front six in the division; Swansea have the best defence and can boast the talent of Scott Sinclair; and if Wes Hoolahan and Grant Holt are fit and firing then who can write off Norwich?
Those sides have been up there for a while, but Reading are the gatecrashers and really could go all the way. But even as somebody who watches a lot of Championship football, I think it would be silly to make too many predictions.
Leeds' hopes of automatic promotion are over, but to a man they can be very proud of what they've achieved this season.
Like Norwich, they have covered themselves in glory. Both are in contention for a second successive promotion with four games to go and that's a fine achievement.
Simon Grayson has encouraged his players to go forward and attack with optimism and they've scored more goals than any other team in the Championship. They attract huge crowds and while that brings huge pressure, it is a big plus for the players.
They have faltered of late and have several teams breathing down their necks, hoping to snatch that sixth spot from them. They haven't won in their last three and might pay for drawing too many games earlier in the season.
If they'd been able to convert a couple of those into wins then they'd be sat in the top six with a cigar in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other. Instead, their supporters must bite their nails for the rest of the season and Friday's game will be very important.
Leeds have pressure on their shoulders to hold onto their final play-off spot. Reading's fine run will count for nothing if they fall away now. That what makes it so exciting.
You can forget what's happened so far. If any of the teams in the top six can put a run together in the next four games then their destiny is in their own hands.
Possession is nine tenths of the law and Leeds will be looking to hold on to what they have. However, Reading will hope to go even higher.
Promotion races? It's more like Wacky Races?
On Good Friday, we will also be covering the Midlands derby between Nottingham Forest and Leicester; two sides whose destiny is no longer in their own hands.
Forest are only two points behind Leeds, while Leicester are a further three points back but I would be surprised if either of them made it into the play-offs.
I always felt Leicester had the squad to make inroads in this division and at least make the top six, but their hopes seem to have been extinguished. The likes of Burnley, Millwall and Hull are better bets to hunt down Leeds on current form.
Meanwhile, Forest went on a great run when they charged into the top six and looked like they were going to push on towards automatic promotion, but now they appear to be spent of energy.
I have huge admiration for the Forest defence with people like Wes Morgan, Chris Gunter and Lee Camp, who is arguably up there with Paddy Kenny as the top goalkeeper in the division. If one of their strikers had scored 20 goals then they'd be candidates for automatic promotion, but that hasn't happened.
Perhaps the in-house politics over signings - people don't seem to be rolling in the same direction - has disrupted the team. The other teams in the top six have a unity that doesn't appear to be there at the City Ground.
You can't write them off, but I don't expect them to be taking part in that £90million play-off final at Wembley on May 30.