West Bromwich Albion extended their lead at the top of the Championship to six points as centre-back Kyle Bartley went from zero to hero in a comeback win at Reading.
Bartley clumsily gave away an early penalty for handball in the air when he appeared under little pressure to head a corner away.
Reading striker George Puscas converted from the spot but Matheus Pereira drew the visitors level midway through the first half.
Bartley atoned for his earlier mistake when he headed the Baggies in front early in the second half from a Filip Krovinovic cross.
That goal ensured a third straight win for Slaven Bilic’s side, who now have a six-point advantage over both Leeds United and Fulham in second and third respectively. In addition, Albion have moved nine points ahead of seventh.
Reading battled bravely for a side without a win in seven league games and thought they had equalised towards the close when Yakou Meite headed home.
But the Ivory Coast striker was adjudged offside and on the balance of chances, West Brom should have made victory more comfortable on the night.
They twice struck the crossbar in either half through Krovinovic and Callum Robinson, while Reading goalkeeper Rafael was called upon on numerous occasions to make some smart saves to keep his side in it.
The Royals remain 16th as their 2020 continues to go without a Championship victory but Mark Bowen’s side still have a nine-point cushion above the relegation zone with 14 games remaining.
Baggies pull clear as chasers falter
A pivotal few days for West Bromwich Albion in the Championship promotion race?
Before the midweek round of fixtures, the top end of the Championship looked as congested as the M25 on the Friday before half-term.
Albion’s successive away victories against Millwall and Reading in the past four days have given the Baggies a six-point lead over second-placed Leeds.
Their nearest challengers have either stuttered or taken points off each other, while Bilic’s side have won three on the spin to put a previous seven-game winless streak behind them.
The Baggies will want to keep this momentum going as long as possible when they look at the compact situation behind them, as just three points separate second and seventh place.
What the managers said
Reading manager Mark Bowen:
“The team gave me everything I thought they could give. No complaints about the performance.
“The only disappointment is I thought the goals were avoidable from our point of view. We took the game to them after falling behind and they were the ones crying for the full-time whistle towards the end.
“I felt we deserved something out of the game. They’re a very, very good side in this league with the way they move the ball.
“But we changed a few things around in the second half and I felt we gave them a great test with that performance. It’s just about trying to get that consistency in our play.”
West Bromwich Albion head coach Slaven Bilic:
“It was a good performance from us. This is a difficult league and you have to be strong technically and tactically and you have to manage your way through games.
“We went behind in an unfortunate way, but we didn’t panic and we kept calm and composed and equalised soon after.
“We never lost belief in our quality. When we do that, we will always have the chance to win games.
“There’s a long way to go, so the points gap is nothing to talk about right now. It’s all about the games to go. Six points would only mean something to me if we had just two games left.
“Kyle (Bartley) can’t quite explain what happened and what he was thinking, but it’s great for him to score and play his part in that victory.”