Southampton v Reading preview: Harte's desire is for Premier League swansong
Published 08:09 13/04/12 By Mike Walters & Alex Crook
Ian Harte leads Reading into tonight’s top-of-the-table shoot-out with Southampton insisting: “We want to go up as champions.”
The Royals head for St Mary's on an incredible run which has yielded 40 points from the last 45 available and has them level-pegging with Saints, six points clear of third-placed West Ham.
Seven points from the remaining four games would guarantee Harte a Premier League curtain-call at 34 – four years after a short-lived spell at the top table with Sunderland, where Roy Keane ditched him after only eight appearances.
On Tuesday, the former Republic of Ireland full-back found himself in a time-warp as he renewed acquaintances with Brighton’s Spanish playmaker Vicente Rodriguez.
The last time they had faced each other was in a Champions League semi-final 11 years ago, when Harte and Leeds came up short against Valencia.
Now, he is within a heartbeat of a nostalgic return to the big stage after scoring the winner at the Amex.
“We’ve just got to focus on what we are doing because we want to get to first place," said Harte.
“It will be a difficult game – they have got a great home record, but the fact we are up there with them just goes to show the great team ethic we have, the will and desire to keep winning.
“I’ve scored some very important goals and the one at Brighton was the most important one this season because it’s given us a six-point gap and it has put us in a great position to reach the Premier League.
“If we go up, it would be the sweetest success of my career.
"Given my age now, it would be amazing.
“We have four games left, I’m fighting to do my best for the team and, please God, I will get another year at Reading because my contract is up in the summer.
"But if I keep putting in decent performances and chipping in with the odd goal, that will look after itself.
“Let’s see what happens – we won eight in a row to get in the play-offs last year but it wasn’t enough to go up. This time we don’t want to leave anything to chance.
“I never really worried too much about getting back into the Premier League. There was a spell for a year when I wasn’t playing and the most important thing is you are going out on a Saturday, fighting for three points and I’m really enjoying it.”
Reading manager Brian McDermott has won a glowing seal of approval from Steve Coppell, his predecessor at the Madejski and now director of football at League Two side Crawley.
Coppell, who led the Royals’ record-breaking plunder of 106 points in the Championship six years ago, said: “I speak to Brian regularly and he has blossomed as a manager. You can only admire what he has done.”
KELVIN DAVIS admits he is still kept awake at night by memories of his horror year in the Premier League with Sunderland.
But he says that gives him extra motivation to lead Southampton into the top flight.
Davis can help Saints take a huge stride towards ending their seven-year exile from the top flight when they entertain Reading tonight in a first-vs-second clash.
The veteran goalkeeper, part of the Black Cats side that conceded EIGHTY goals and won only 15 points in the 2005-06 season, said: “I think about that season with Sunderland most nights before I go to sleep.
“The fans blamed me for every goal we conceded - even the Goal of the Season was my fault. I took a lot of flak.
“When I went, I was going for the right reasons. I moved the family up there and went hoping to experience a fantastic season in the Premier League.
“I would love to have another pop in the Premier League and if the opportunity comes around again hopefully I will be up to the challenge.”
Saints have a six-point lead over third-placed West Ham but are ahead of in-form Reading only on goal difference.
And Davis admits he would be devastated if Nigel Adkins’ side miss out on the title.
The veteran, 35, added: “I’d be a fool to say I’d just be happy with promotion.
“Winning the Championship is something you dream and I have never won a medal. This game will have a big say on who lifts the trophy.”