By Nabil HassanBBC Sport at St Mary's Stadium

Reading all but secured promotion to the Premier League with a victory over their nearest rivals Southampton in an enthralling encounter at St Mary's.

Jason Roberts's header put Reading ahead with Rickie Lambert's deflected strike levelling before two goals from Adam Le Fondre sealed the win.

Victory opens up a three-point gap for Reading at the top of the Championship.

And with three games to go, the Royals hold a nine-point advantage over third-placed West Ham, who have four to play.

It would take a monumental slip-up and some very unfortunate results elsewhere for Reading to miss out on promotion now, while Southampton face a nervous battle with the Hammers for the second automatic place.

But Nigel Adkins' side can take huge credit for the way they played and if they perform like they did tonight in each of their final three games there will not be a team that can live with them.

Reading's victory was secured courtesy of some fine goalkeeping from Adam Federici and two moments of magic from winger Jimmy Kebe, who created two of the goals.

Southampton headed into the game top on goal difference and the contest pitted the league's best attack against the division's most frugal defence.

Saints started brilliantly but found Federici in fine form, the Australian keeping out Lambert and Adam Lallana in the opening minutes.

It was Southampton at their free-flowing best with Lallana pulling the strings in midfield and Billy Sharp's movement proving a constant menace for the visitors.

Lambert had a golden opportunity to put Saints ahead but his close-range header was well kept out by Federici and moments later Reading caught their hosts with a classic sucker-punch.

For the first time in the game, Kebe found space on the right wing to send in a fierce cross and Roberts was there to power home a header from three yards.

Saints came firing back, Lallana again going close with a delightful chip, but for all their endeavour they could not beat Federici.

Roberts was proving a useful outlet for Reading but their moments in the Saints half were few and far between and just before the break Lambert should have put the hosts level but headed over from six yards.

It took just three minutes for Saints to level after the break and unsurprisingly it was Lambert who scored.

The Championship's player of the year combined brilliantly with Sharp before firing a deflected half-volley past Federici. The goal spurred Saints on and soon after Richard Chaplow warmed the palms of Federici with a fierce drive from the right.

Lambert and Sharp combined again before the latter sent a low drive past Federici's right-hand post while Lallana also headed wide from close range.

But as in the first half, Reading made Southampton pay for their wastefulness in front of goal and Le Fondre found space in the Saints box to fire home after good work from Kebe on the right.

Reading were superb in defence as Saints pursued a second equaliser, Steve de Ridder firing straight at Federici late on.

And in the closing moments, Le Fondre sealed the victory after rounding Kelvin Davis before firing into the empty net to send the away fans into delirium.

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