By Laurie Fitzgerald

Over the last couple of months, there has been no doubting who is the form team of the Npower Championship as the automatic promotion race hots up.

Reading went into Tuesday night’s game at Doncaster with eight consecutive league victories under their belt, the best run of any side in the division this season.

While their winning streak came to an end with a 1-1 draw, it was a result that maintained an excellent unbeaten run.

This has seen Brian McDermott‘s side go from possible play-off candidates to genuine contenders for a top-two finish and a return to the Premier League.

Their sensational form has almost gone under the radar of many observers, but recent slip-ups from the likes of West Ham and Southampton have ensured that the Royals are very much in the mix to get back to the big time.

McDermott is an often understated and certainly underrated manager, whose ability at unearthing raw talent and moulding them to their full potential has allowed Reading to build real momentum in the run-in.    

This has been demonstrated in centre-half Alex Pearce, who has stepped up following the summer departure of Matt Mills and has been brilliant at the heart of a defence that is only bettered by Hull City in goals conceded so far this campaign.

23 year-old Pearce has formed a solid partnership alongside Latvian Kaspars Gorkss, while midfielder Mikele Leigertwood has provided excellent protection to the back four and made Reading one of the toughest teams to break down in the Championship.

But this Royals outfit isn’t just about being well-organised; they have plenty of creativity in the midfield and greaty variety in their strikeforce that has made them such serious contenders.

The likes of Jem Karacan, Jobi McAnuff and Hal Robson-Kanu provide plenty of width and pace, while on his day Jimmy Kebe is one of the best attacking midfielders in the division.

Up front there is a wonderful blend; they have terrific work-rate in Simon Church and Noel Hunt, experience in leading the line coming from January arrival Jason Roberts, plus a fox in the box in Adam Le Fondre.

While the quartet have not been as prolific as many would imagine (although Roberts record in 4 from 8 games is hardly a record to be scoffed at), they have not needed to score a hatful of goals with their current structure so effective.

Southampton may be scoring plenty of goals and West Ham may not be conceding many, but Reading are ticking both boxes right now.

The big question is whether or not they can keep it going; if they finish the season with 19 consecutive wins then no-one can dispute that they haven’t deserved automatic promotion.

Chances are that there will be a slip-up along the way, and it will be how Reading overcome that which will be a true test of their credentials – especially with so many twists and turns seemingly inevitable.

McDermott had the chance to become a Premier League manager last month when he turned down the Wolves job to sign a new contract at the Madjeski: if Reading can continue their recent march, he may not have to wait much longer to become a top-flight boss.

So what do you think? Will Reading gain automatic promotion? Can they maintain their recent form at the business end of the season? Leave a comment and let us know your views.