Brighton have identified Stuart Gray as their first-choice to succeed Steve Coppell, who has finally decided to take the manager's job at Reading
Coppell has ended prolonged speculation over his future by leaving the Second Division leaders to fill the vacancy at Reading created by Alan Pardew's decision to join West Ham last month.
Gray, who briefly managed Southampton two years ago and also has coaching experience with Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest, has already been in contact with the Brighton chairman, Dick Knight. The Seagulls would also like to speak to Paul Merson, but Gray may be a cheaper option than the Walsall midfielder.
After being unveiled at the Madejski Stadium as Reading's new manager, Coppell said he has joined a club that is "set up for the Premiership". The Royals were beaten by Wolves in last season's First Division play-off semi-finals and before Pardew's controversial exit were second in the table.
"I can't guarantee success, and the supporters will need patience," Coppell warned. "The clichés are true, it really is one game at a time. This is a tough division because of the prize at the end. Reading came so close to the Premiership last season. You could say they hit the post and it bounced out.
"The club is set up for the Premiership with a superb stadium and infrastructure," he added. "I knew about the situation at Reading because Alan Pardew is a good footballing friend of mine. He still is. I signed him from non-league football so we have a relationship that goes back a long way."
Reading have managed one win in six league games since Pardew left but Coppell hopes his opening three fixtures, which are all at home against Gillingham, Preston and Walsall, will see a change in fortunes.
"That looks good but that can bring its own pressures. I think the team has been a little distracted by the turmoil and we have to put them back on track," the 48-year-old said. Coppell, who took over at Brighton last October following the sacking of Martin Hinshelwood, has signed a contract until the end of the 2004-2005 season.
"I am excited by the prospect of taking Reading forward, but anxious about the responsibility," he said. "I am also sad to leave Brighton. It's such a good club, so I have mixed emotions."
The former Crystal Palace, Manchester City and Brentford manager confirmed he will retain all Reading's existing backroom staff. "I have worked with 10 or 11 different sets of backroom staff during my time in football and never had a problem with any of them," he said.
The Reading chairman, John Madejski, apologised for the delay in appointing Coppell. "When I first approached the Brighton chairman, Dick Knight, they had a clutch of games coming up and he did not want Steve distracted," he said. "Then when the time came that we could talk to Steve we had to negotiate the contract. We are delighted we have got him. We have finally got our man."