Reading 5 Cardiff City 1: Sidwell proves 'danger zone' holds no fears for Reading

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The Independent Football

The prize for "Understatement of 2006'' should already have been passed on to Steve Coppell who, after watching Reading romp to their biggest win of the season to move 10 points clear at the top of the Championship with the so-called Christmas "danger zone'' exited, commented: "No, we're not in a bad position.''

And second prize should be winging its way across the Severn Bridge to Dave Jones, who after seeing his side suffer their worst defeat of the campaign, said: "Yeah, we got a bit of a drubbing.'' Still, at least the Cardiff manager was the one prepared to utter the piece of sanity that everyone else is thinking.

"Listen, Reading are already in the Premiership,'' he said. "There's no doubt they are the best team in the division.'' Evidence has rarely been so emphatically provided as it was at the Madejski Stadium yesterday. Two goals apiece for David Kitson and Steve Sidwell put the lustre on a performance that fairly oozed the confidence of champions. "Ultimately, it was some tremendous football on our part that was the difference,'' Coppell said. "We should have been out of sight well before.''

The Royals' ascendancy was only too obvious from the off and after the first half Jones must have been delighted to get his exhausted rabble back into the dressing-room just the two to the bad. But had Alan Lee converted the one-on-one presented to him in the 10th minute, then at least the outcome might not have been quite as inevitable.

For when Lee's hesitant effort clattered off the knees of Marcus Hahnemann the resulting charge upfield ended in Bobby Convey's cross finding Neil Alexander's net via the head of Sidwell. Twenty-one minutes of home pressure later and the advantage was doubled, this time the forehead of the towering defender Ibrahima Sonko doing the necessary to Nicky Shorey's in-swinging free-kick from the right. The Senegalese international has become something of a hero and the news that he has decided not to go to the African Nations Cup will only add to his cult. "I am very grateful to him,'' said Coppell, looking a trifle uncomfortable.

But if ever a player deeming the pull of club to be stronger than that of country can be seen as forgivable, then surely this is it. The Madejski is a joyous place to be at the moment, a truth highlighted after the break yesterday with giddying ease.

Kitson grabbed his first in the 51st minute when bundling in Glen Little's centre, Sidwell expertly sneaked in another header off another sumptuous Shorey free-kick in the 71st minute and Darren Purse's handball five minutes later gave Kitson the chance to match his midfield team-mate when smashing the penalty high into the net.

In the meantime, Cameron Jerome had managed to strike a blow for the vanquished with a right-footer passed Hahnemann in the 62nd minute, but as consolation goes, it was barely negligible. "Are you watching Arsenal?'' sang the gallant Cardiff fans in the gallows. They are travelling to Highbury on Saturday. The M4 has never seemed so unappealing.

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Ingimarsson, Sonko, Shorey; Little (Oster, 77), Sidwell, Harper, Convey (Hunt, 71); Doyle, Kitson (Long, 77). Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Gunnarsson.

Cardiff City (4-4-2): Alexander; Weston, Loovens, Purse, Barker; Cooper (Ardley, 60), Ledley, Whitley, Koumas; Lee, Jerome. Substitutes not used: Margetson (gk), Cox, Darlington, Ricketts.

Referee: R Olivier (West Midlands).