Coppell cautious as Kitson goal keeps Reading rolling

Stoke City 0 Reading 1
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The Independent Football

With Sheffield United held to a draw at Leeds United on Friday evening, second-placed Reading closed the gap between themselves and the leaders to three points, the two of them now six points in front of third-placed Luton.

Unbeaten in 16 matches in all competitions, Reading have ensured that even with 12 wins from 15 games, the leaders are in no position to relax. But still at the forefront of Coppell's mind is the knowledge that his team looked certainties to at least be in the play-offs last season only to limp across the line in seventh place.

A disastrous run of only five wins in 21 games after Boxing Day condemned Coppell, not for the first time in his career, to the agony of seeing success slip from his grasp at the final hurdle.

This season, understandably, he is making no promises, declining even to agree that Reading's win at the Britannia Stadium was a message to the remainder of the division, particularly the leaders.

"No, we aren't sending out signals to anyone," Coppell said after Dave Kitson's penalty 13 minutes from the end had brought disappointment for a home side who had given them a difficult afternoon.

"All we are concerned about is looking after ourselves, concentrating on our next game and trying to win another three points. We don't look at what Sheffield United are doing or anyone else." As it happens, it would be a surprise if he has not been looking at what Sheffield United have been doing, given that they are Reading's next opponents, in the Carling Cup tomorrow, but you know what he means.

After that, the Royals face Leeds in the Championship. "You can never relax, no matter how you are doing, because looming large always is your next opponent."

However, the consensus is that Reading are better equipped to see the job through this time. Last season, they suffered badly when leading scorer Kitson missed two months through injury, exposing the lack of depth in their squad. This season, that shortcoming has been rectified. Indeed, Kitson started on Saturday only because Leroy Lita, this season's top marksman, was injured.

On the other hand, though this result underlined the resilient quality of Coppell's team, it is also true that they struggled at times to get the better of Stoke, whose form has hardly been scintillating.

Struggling to get to grips with a new system and a new approach since Johan Boskamp replaced Tony Pulis as manager, the Potters had lost four in a row before last week's narrow win over ailing Crewe. Yet had they been able to bring their expensive new signing, Sammy Bangoura, into the action a little more, Stoke could have punished the visitors.

As it was, their spells of ascendancy yielded nothing, while Reading, for whom Brynjar Gunnarsson worked tirelessly and productively against his former club, achieved a breakthrough 13 minutes from the end when full-back Lewis Buxton found referee Graham Salisbury in no mood to be generous, ruling his tackle on Kitson, though it seemed to win the ball, to be outside the law, awarding a penalty that Kitson converted with conviction.

Goal: Kitson pen (76) 1-0.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen; Buxton, Hoefkens, Taggart (Wilkinson, 87), Broomes; Chadwick (Sidibe, h-t), Russell, Brammer, Kolar (Sweeney, h-t); Gallagher, Bangoura. Substitutes not used: De Goey (gk), Henry.

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Makin (Sidwell, 53), Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Little (Oster, 73), Harper, Gunnarsson, Convey (Hunt, 90); Doyle, Kitson. Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Obinna.

Referee: G Salisbury (Lancashire).

Booked: Stoke Hoefkens, Buxton, Bangoura. Reading Makin, Little.

Man of the match: Gunnarsson.

Attendance: 13,484.