Coppell's departure mourned by Reading

Manager steps down after delivering 'most successful years in the club's history'

Reading, the football club known to older supporters as the Biscuitmen rather than the more modish Royals, were looking for crumbs of comfort yesterday after defeat in the Championship play-off semi-final by Burnley prompted the resignation of Steve Coppell as manager.

Coppell offered one reason for optimism in pointing to the club's solid financial position, which will be improved by a second and final Premier League parachute payment of £11.2m this summer. "We've made money this year," he said. "We might have gambled more but this club works within its budget. There is no credit crunch here."

Now, however, Reading face the problem familiar to all clubs relegated from the Premier League who do not make an immediate return: whether to spend the parachute money on new players or keep it for the rainy days that will surely follow if they fail again next season. The club will also have to decide whether to cash in on some of their key players such as Kevin Doyle, Stephen Hunt and Noel Hunt or try to retain their services for another push at the Premier League.

Sir John Madejski has proved a supportive owner, and although he wishes to sell the club to an even richer entrepreneur who can invest serious money, he knows that the chances of obtaining the right price are much lower as a Championship club.

For once a chairman's tribute to a departing manager sounded genuine when Madejski said yesterday: "I'd like to thank Steve sincerely for everything he has done for Reading over the last five and a half years, which has been the most successful period in the club's history." Coppell added: "I feel it's the best thing for both the club and myself for me to leave. I've thoroughly enjoyed my time as Reading manager."

The frustration for everyone at Reading has been the number of automatic promotion chances they have wasted. Always among the favourites to go up, they were second at the end of January after completing a double over eventual champions Wolves at the Madejski Stadium. That proved to be the last home win of the season, however, nine further games passing without one. Even then, victory in the final league match over Birmingham would have sufficed but Birmingham won 2-1 to return to the Premier League at the first attempt instead.

Coppell is expected to take a break rather than retire. He may have more than 1,000 games as a manager under his belt, but is still only 53, having started when Ron Noades appointed him at Crystal Palace in 1984 aged only 28 for the first of his four spells at the club. He subsequently managed Manchester City, for only 33 days, and later Brentford and Brighton, before joining Reading in October 2003 when Alan Pardew left for West Ham.

They were promoted as champions in 2006 with 106 points and then finished eighth in the Premier League, missing a place in Europe by a point. But last year they were relegated as "second season syndrome" set in.

Bookmakers have made Watford's Brendan Rodgers, a former Reading player and academy director, favourite to take over as manager, although a local newspaper poll did not mention him and had Alan Curbishley and Glenn Hoddle far ahead of the field.

One difficulty concerning the appointment is that Coppell was one of few managers to work successfully with a director of football, in Reading's case their former goalkeeper Nicky Hammond. Much will depend on whether candidates are prepared to accept him, or want to make a change.

Whoever takes over will find that the Cameroonian centre-half Andre Bikey will be unavailable for the first three games of next season and possibly more. He was yesterday charged by the Football Association with improper conduct after a wild display of dissent when sent off in the final minute of the semi-final first leg on Saturday.

Royals ascent: Who could step up

Brendan Rodgers

Watford manager is favourite to take the helm. Rodgers may be the popular choice having been a Reading player and managed the Royals' youth team between 1995 and 2004.

Odds: 4/7 (Ladbrokes)

Aidy Boothroyd

Currently available, he gained promotion with Watford to the Premier League through the play-offs in 2006. May make extensive changes to the Royals' style of play.

Odds: 8/1

Alan Curbishley

Managed Charlton for 15 years, gaining promotion to the Premier League twice. Avoided relegation with West Ham on the last day of 2006/07 season. Currently without a club.

Odds: 5/1

Paul Ince

Excellent record in the football league with Macclesfield and MK Dons, maybe the Blackburn job came too soon for Ince. Reading could be the perfect route back into management.

Odds 11/1

£11.2 million

The amount that Reading will be paid next season by the Premier League after they were relegated in 2008.

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