Reading 1 Birmingham City 1: Coppell pushes deadly Dunn for England call-up

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The Independent Online

David Dunn for England? The usually understated Steve Coppell thinks so. "He is a quality player," the Reading manager said, "and should be on the fringes." Some, such as David Pleat, believe Coppell should succeed Sven Goran Eriksson. "Behave," was Coppell's answer to that one.

The only promotion concerning Coppell is runaway Reading's surely inevitable journey to the Premiership. They are almost there and still he is having none of it. It meant he was involved in a tortuous explanation as to why he left out eight first-choice picks against Birmingham City and yet was not guilty of lowering the importance of the competition.

Indeed, Coppell delivered the great line of having to keep his players "match-tight". Those in possession of the shirt, he said, were being pushed by the shadow Cup XI and on this evidence they all look hungry enough, even if they secured a replay which neither club wanted.

Surely such statements of strength in depth are the preserve of Chelsea? But, the Premiership beware, Reading are going to be formidable, cleverly-assembled and highly-motivated additions. No one should tip them for immediate relegation and they comfortably held their own against a first-choice Birmingham who are in danger, of course, of swapping divisions with their Cup opponents next season.

Indeed, their manager Steve Bruce was lost for words. But that was due to his sore throat rather than, as his assistant Eric Black put it, a first half that was a "non-event".

The same could be said of Dunn's last two years. Last season was wiped out by a back injury, the season before a hamstring problem stopped the 26-year-old playing. It means that his Birmingham career, since his £5.5m transfer from Blackburn Rovers in July 2003, has stalled.

The year before that, it should be remembered, Dunn was indeed playing for his country. A second-half substitute appearance in a friendly against Portugal meant the former captain of the England Under-21s was on standby for the 2002 World Cup.

"If he performs like he can there is no reason to say why he can't make it in time for the World Cup," Black said. That may be overstating the case at present but when Dunn came on as a substitute, one of three replacements made by Bruce just before the hour, he transformed the match.

He scored the equalising goal, volleying in at the back post after Chris Sutton's flick-on, after forcing a smart save by Graham Stack from a header and scooping another shot over the bar. Dunn, who also scored against Portsmouth last week, put the life back into Birmingham. Only a fine block by Stack from Mario Melchiot's header and an alert parry by the goalkeeper from Jermaine Pennant's free-kick prevented the visitors from completing an unlikely turnaround after they had fallen behind to Shane Long's goal. The 18-year-old Irish striker showed composure to steady himself and shoot, low and hard, inside the near post from James Harper's pass.

"He has got things that very few in the Premiership have," Black said of Dunn. "He plays on the front foot. He has disguise. He's a very good finisher. He's a top player, a spark. He sees things in the final third that other players don't."

Coppell concurred. "He has had a really unlucky time with injuries and is being nursed back so he doesn't have any more setbacks," he said. "I wish they had nursed him a little bit longer though."

Goals: Long (31) 1-0; Dunn (67) 1-1.

Reading (4-4-2): Stack; Halls, Sonko, Gunnarsson, Makin; Oster, Harper, Sidwell, Hunt; Long (Doyle, 90), Lita. Substitutes not used: Hahnemann (gk), Little, Ingimarsson, Osano.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Taylor; Melchiot, Tebily, Bruce, Lazaridis; Pennant, Johnson, Izzet (Kilkenny, 58), Jarosik (Forssell, 58); Heskey (Dunn, 58), Sutton. Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Oji.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

Booked: Reading Sonko, Oster; Birmingham Tebily.

Man of the match: Dunn.

Attendance: 23,762.

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