Coppell hopes to settle old scores on return to Palace

The former Crystal Palace manager Steve Coppell makes another nostalgic return to Selhurst Park today trusting that the visit will turn out somewhat better than the last 90 minutes that he spent there on professional duty.

Coppell, who was in charge at Palace between 1984 and 1993 and subsequently had three more spells as manager or technical director, took his Brighton side to his old stamping ground in October 2002 and lost 5-0.

This time it ought to be closer. Now charged with continuing Reading's upward progress, Coppell leads a team with designs on the play-offs against an opponent with an identical objective, and with only two points between them in the First Division table.

Dogged by inconsistency since losing Alan Pardew to West Ham, Reading also have a score to settle with Palace after losing 3-0 at the Madejski Stadium in December just before Iain Dowie was appointed.

"It was embarrassing to go there with Brighton and concede five," Coppell admitted on Reading's official website. "When you face your previous employers you want to show you've moved onwards and upwards. It is nice to go back but I'm desperate to do well and I'd love to take three points.

"It will be a difficult game. We want to get back on the promotion trail but a win will be important to Crystal Palace's momentum."

That momentum amounts to seven wins from 10 matches since Dowie assumed control, a run that has confirmed the favourable impression made by the former Northern Ireland international striker in his first full-time managerial position with Oldham.

Dowie has transformed Palace's fortunes despite making few changes to the playing staff and striker Andrew Johnson is a good example of a player whose form has taken off since Dowie's arrival compared with what he achieved under previous managers.

Although he suffered from injuries at first following his move from Birmingham in 2002, it was felt that Johnson's effectiveness was also lessened by Trevor Francis's tendency to use him in wide positions, whereas the central role he has enjoyed under Dowie has proved much more productive.

Johnson was a great admirer of Francis and was disappointed his former manager failed to impress the Palace owner Simon Jordan but he now rates Dowie as "the best manager I've worked under."

With the FA Cup complicating fixture schedules for Sheffield United, Sunderland and Millwall, points won now could be invaluable, which is why the West Bromwich Albion manager Gary Megson is eager that his side do not repeat the kind of slip-up they suffered at home to Rotherham last weekend when Coventry visit The Hawthorns.

"Those teams may end up with games in hand and if you win them that is great," he said. "But if you don't, then it is a problem. At this stage of the season, you have to be performing. It is points on the board that counts."

Coventry have taken 16 points from seven matches since Eric Black succeeded Gary McAllister in the manager's role at Highfield Road but another failure would be seen as a missed opportunity for Albion, who have a chance to draw level on points with leaders Norwich ahead of tomorrow's East Anglian derby at Carrow Road.

It is a weekend in which third-placed Wigan Athletic, at home to Crewe, and fifth-placed West Ham United, who host Walsall at Upton Park, will also be anxious to take home maximum points.

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