By Tony Leighton
If Reading manager Nigel Adkins wants a sure-fire way to ensure promotion, he should perhaps consider selecting Hope Akpan to play in every match.
Unrealised even by midfielder Akpan himself, he has been the Royals' lucky charm as they try to regain their Premier League status at the first attempt.
In the 12 Sky Bet Championship appearances so far made by the former Crawley Town player, not a single defeat has been suffered by Adkins' team.
Nine wins and three draws with Akpan in the side have yielded 30 points, but in the 14 games without him - seven of them lost - just 11 points have been gained.
When football-league.co.uk pointed out the statistics to the young midfielder, whose first 10 appearances were as substitute, he was genuinely surprised.
"I didn't realise that," said Akpan, who has started in each of the last two games - both of them won - to help the Royals climb into the Play-Off places.
"Maybe I'll tell the manager," he added with a mischievous grin as he looks to rid himself of his early season frustration by getting a run in the starting line-up.
"I was so frustrated," he said, "that at one point I spoke out and said I might have to look elsewhere to get some game time, perhaps with a loan.
"But all I wanted to do was to play regularly for Reading and try to help us get back to the Premier League, so I'm delighted to have started the last two games."
Akpan has not only started the last two outings but also, in last Saturday's 7-1 mauling of Bolton Wanderers, scored his first goal for the club.
Hitting the net has taken the 22-year-old midfield man just over a year since he moved to the Madejski Stadium from League 1 outfit Crawley.
He was signed just a few days after playing for Crawley in a 3-1 FA Cup third round defeat by Reading at the Red Devils' Broadfield Stadium.
A fortnight after that Cup tie Akpan made his Reading debut in totally different surroundings as the Royals beat Newcastle United 2-1 at St James' Park.
He provided the assist for Adam Le Fondre's winner on that occasion and then set up the same player for both of the Reading goals in a 2-2 draw at Chelsea.
Despite those fine results, however, Akpan found himself part of a relegated team at the end of what was ultimately a massively disappointing season.
But now the sights of Adkins and his men, who on Saturday are aiming for an away win against Ipswich Town, are set firmly on a quick return to the top flight.
A third successive victory would certainly improve their chances and, says Akpan, last week's huge win against Bolton has hopefully given them lift-off.
"That big win can be the catalyst for us," he said. "It's given us a big confidence boost and we'll be looking to build on it in a tough run of games we've now got.
"Ipswich will definitely be a difficult game because they're only a few points below the Play-Off places and they'll feel that they can get up there.
"But we've got the capabilities to get a result and then to keep the momentum going with a good run that can hopefully push us further up the table.
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