Championship play-off contenders
18 April ~ It was 25 years ago, almost to this very day, that Reading played Wigan at Elm Park in the old Division Three. A crowd of just 3,800 stood in a sombre silence in memory of the Hillsborough disaster four days earlier. So much has changed: Elm Park, Springfield Park, the name "Division Three" itself, all gone. Back then Wigan v Reading had a decidedly lower division feel to it. Now it's a fixture that has taken place in all four divisions as both clubs have been companions in progress. Each have benefited from the paternalistic rule of "local" chairmen, Dave Whelan and John Madejski, and multi-purpose stadiums built in the 1990s.
The clubs were promoted to the Premier League in successive seasons in 2005 and 2006, relegated together last season and currently lie fifth and sixth in the Championship play-offs zone. A Good Friday win for Reading would take them above Wigan but for both clubs a greater concern is the current rather hotter form of Brighton, Ipswich and Bournemouth, all lying immediately below the dotted line.
Beaten opposition managers take comfort in referring to Wigan and Reading as ex-Premier League clubs. Technically this is true but it disguises dissimilarity. Less than a week ago Wigan were the FA Cup holders, having beaten Manchester City in the final last year. Three days later Reading were so totally out-played by City in the Premier League that it took the breath away. There was a chasm between 18th (Wigan) and 19th (Reading) in last season's Premier League, emphasised by Wigan's league double over Reading. They are a Good Friday win away from repeating the dose, having won 2-1 at the Madejski Stadium in December.
If Wigan make their way back into the Premier League through the play-offs, using the two-leg expertise picked up in Europe and the Wembley nous acquired from four recent visits, it would feel like a club returning to its home division where it spent eight consecutive seasons. Their squad is deep, full of a mix of experienced, exotic and promising names and momentum has been with them and new manager Uwe Rösler since January.
By contrast if Reading make it back to the top level through the play-offs it would come as a great surprise to many supporters. Unlike Wigan, Reading never managed to establish themselves in the Premier League and, given current form and injuries, are by no means a certain bet to qualify for the play-offs. It is something of a triumph for the Royals to still be in contention at this stage with their destiny still in their own hands. An excellent away record is their trump card. Roger Titford