John Salako could hardly believe his luck when Steve Coppell beat off several rival candidates to replace Alan Pardew as manager of Reading. At 34, the former England winger badly needed first-team football to maintain his motivation after being marginalised by Pardew.
Ironically, Salako had thought seriously about dropping down a division and joining Coppell, his one-time mentor, at Brighton. It was Coppell who gave Salako, then a teenager, his Crystal Palace debut and his first taste of competitive League football back in the mid-1980s.
But Salako helped repay Coppell's faith in him by scoring the only goal, albeit courtesy of a deflection, in Saturday's win over Millwall that lifted Reading into the top six in the First Division.
"I've had a lot of good times under Steve," Salako said. "I know what he wants and the way he wants to play. It's fantastic from my point of view, him being appointed. I can't think of anyone better."
It was not lost either on Salako that his first League goal of the season also pushed Reading above West Ham, now managed, of course, by Pardew. "Going above West Ham is a big boost," he said. "Last year we were a bit of an unknown quantity and we thrived on it, but now there are genuinely 10 or 12 clubs who can finish in the top six."
One of them is Millwall who, with only one fit striker, pushed Reading hard and only just came up short. Tony Warner saved a first-half Andy Hughes penalty and Paul Ifill then missed three excellent opportunities for the visitors.
At the end, Coppell was relieved to take the points and delighted with Salako's contribution. "John gives us some symmetry and knows the job so well," he said. "When you've been parading up and down that left flank for 17 years, you know what you're doing. He belies his years."
Salako's goal also made it a disappointing start for Dennis Wise in his first game as Millwall's permanent player-manager. Wise left himself on the bench and Ray Wilkins, who has been assisting him, gave an insight into why.
"When you come over to this side it's totally different and Dennis is feeling it a bit at the moment," he said. "It takes it out of you and that's why he's not playing at present, though that will change in time."
Goal: Salako (23) 1-0.
Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Ingimarsson, Newman, Shorey; Hughes, Sidwell, Harper (Watson, 81), Salako (Henderson, 79); Goater (Savage, 74), Forster. Substitutes not used: Young (gk), Mackie.
Millwall (4-4-2): Warner; Muscat, Ward, Ryan, Lawrence; Sweeney, Livermore, Cahill, Fofana (Elliott, 75); Braniff (Roberts, 60), Ifill. Substitutes not used: Gueret (gk), Nethercott, Wise.
Referee: M Jones (Chester).
Bookings: Reading: Hahnemann, Henderson; Millwall: Fofana, Livermore, Muscat.
Man of the match: Sidwell.
Attendance: 14,090.Reuse content