Reading 5 Brighton 1: Reading are rampant but Coppell still in denial

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The Independent Football

"Negare anche l'evidenzia" or "deny even the evidence" is an Italian saying and Coppell is taking that to the letter. The Berkshire side are 17 points clear of the third-placed side, have won seven games in a row, and are now unbeaten in 22 consecutive League games, a run they started away to Brighton in August.

Even Coppell's chairman, John Madejski, is getting into the idea of life in the élite. On Saturday he said: "We clearly have a very good chance of achieving automatic promotion." Yet seared into Coppell's brain, and the reason for his caution this time around, is the memory of last season's collapse after Boxing Day that saw them go 11 games without a win and knocked them off course and ultimately even out of the play-offs. So Madejski's further comment that "there is absolutely no danger the team will become complacent", rang true.

It is an attitude that serves them well for games like this. Mark McGhee, who left Reading in acrimonious circumstances 11 years ago and was reminded of it on Saturday, brought his Brighton side to defend and counter-attack and Coppell therefore had to think hard on his feet for the first half of this game.

His plan was to attack from the flanks, through Bobby Convey and Glen Little and it was from the latter that the breakthrough came. The former Burnley winger beat Alex Frutos on the right and his cross brought an own goal from Charlie Oatway.

Having fought hard, the end effectively came for the visitors after 48 minutes when Dave Kitson spun around Gary Elphick and headed towards goal from 25 yards only to be brought down. With the teenager booked in the first half, he was shown a second yellow card and McGhee said later the debutant was "devastated". It was the Kitson show from there on in.

From the ensuing free-kick Kitson fell to the floor inside the area and he emphatically converted the debatable penalty that followed. Kitson went on to claim his hat-trick with two more headers and Stephen Hunt scored his first Reading goal with another header, interspersed with Colin Kazim-Richards' long-range consolation for the visitors. But with Albion's morale shattered all that was left for McGhee to say was that he thought the home fans are making a poor effort of supporting their team. Maybe they are just being as cautious as their manager.

Goals: Oatway og (27) 1-0; Kitson pen (50) 2-0; Kitson (71) 3-0; Hunt (76) 4-0; Kazim-Richards (84) 4-1; Kitson (90) 5-1.

Reading: 4-4-2: Hahnemann; Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Little (Oster, 79), Sidwell, Harper (Gunnarsson, 75), Convey; Kitson, Doyle (Hunt, 73) Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Makin.

Brighton: 5-4-1: Blayney; Hart, Butters, El-Abd, G Elphick, Reid (Robinson, 65); Carole (Kazim-Richards, 55), Oatway, Hammond, Frutos; Knight (T Elphick, 73). Substitutes not used: Nicolas, Chaigneau.

Referee: P Taylor (Hertfordshire).

Booked: Reading Shorey; Brighton Hammond. Sent off: Brighton: G Elphick (48).

Man of the match: Dave Kitson.

Attendance: 18,546.