ALEX McCarthy is backing himself to keep Adam Federici out of the Reading side for the long run as the rookie goalkeeper prepares to make his second successive start at Crystal Palace tomorrow (3pm ko).

Federici is facing a six week lay-off at least after damaging medial knee ligaments in the 1-1 draw with Watford on Saturday. And the 6ft 5ins McCarthy sees it as his window of opportunity.

The 21-year-old Royals Academy graduate made his full debut for the first team on Tuesday night in the morale-boosting 2-1 win against Millwall.

And the England Under-21 international is not about to let go of the No.1 jersey without a fight.

"If I have a good run of games in the side I'm confident I can challenge Adam, definitely," suggested McCarthy. "Hopefully my performances will grow and grow.

"I think Adam is out for a while so playing every week should give me confidence. I think I've got a great chance. If I keep playing well and the team keeps winning, then why not?

"I always felt I would have a chance at Reading. I came up through the Academy and I've waited a long time for this, it's a great feeling."

Guildford-born McCarthy showed few signs of nerves on the night. Though he was beaten by Neil Harris well-taken equaliser, he controlled his area well and was brave in the challenge.

"I felt solid, I just found it hard to kick the ball on that surface," he explained. "But I didn't really feel pressure, I thrive on it.

"I played against Millwall last season when I was on loan at Yeovil and got quite a bit of stick at their place, so I was ready for it. I just blocked it out, ignored it and got on with the game. Hopefully I can take that confidence into Saturday now."

Suddenly, McCarthy has been transformed from bench-warmer to first-choice keeper, a fact which will be hammered home next Tuesday night when he steps out at Goodison Park for Reading's FA Cup fifth round tie against Everton (7.30pm ko, live ESPN).

"Crystal Palace on Saturday is a great opportunity for us to win," he added. "Then Everton on Tuesday will be a fantastic occasion. We've got some big games coming so hopefully I will get a run in the team."

Despite McCarthy's lack of first-team experience at Reading, boss Brian McDermott had no qualms about throwing him in against the Lions.

"I had no doubt at all about playing him," confirmed McDermott. "He looked comfortable out there and that is a very good sign.

"Our goalkeeping coach Sal Bibbo has been great with our goalkeepers, he mentors them and brings them along. We're very lucky to have so many of the quality of Alex, Adam, Mikele Andersen and Ben Hamer."

A scan of Federici's injured knee revealed the worst this week. The 24-year-old Australian has damaged the ligaments and will be out for weeks if not months.

Despite McCarthy's promise, losing a player of Federici's stature could be a big blow.

McDermott added: "You can't put a time-scale on these things and Adam will be out for as long as it takes for the injury to heal.

"Adam is disappointed but he has wished Alex all the best and he'll be right behind him. That's the kind of guy he is."