Sidwell ensures perfect start for Coppell

Reading 2 Gillingham 1
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The Independent Football

Steve Coppell got the result - if not the performance - he craved in his first match as Reading's manager last night, but one of football's great realists will not have been blind to the struggle they faced in this match against a team that started the night five places below them in the First Division.

Coppell had left Brighton last week sitting pretty on top of the Second Division to take over a Royals side that has suffered since Alan Pardew resigned last month with the West Ham job in the offing.

In the six weeks since then, and under the caretaker guidance of Kevin Dillon, the Berkshire side had suffered a slump in their confidence, leading to a run of only two wins in their previous seven games.

Here at the Madejski Stadium a third win looked unlikely in the extreme until Steve Sidwell popped up five minutes from time, scoring from 20 yards with a shot that somehow squeezed past Jason Brown's despairing dive.

Coppell, the former Crystal Palace and Brentford manager, said: "A good result was very important. This was a difficult game because of the expectation and with a new man at the helm. But I was delighted with the qualities that led to the result."

Yet defeat was harsh on a well organised Gillingham side who deserved to come away with at least a point, but were left to rue slight lapses in their concentration.

Although it was the visiting side that dominated the play, they failed to take their chances when they came, while luck went against them as early as the first minute.

It was within 45 seconds that Rod Wallace capitalised on some hesitation by the Reading defender Steve Brown and his cross-shot beat Marcus Hahnemann only to rebound to safety off the post.

The American goalkeeper then found himself in the thick of the action in the last 20 minutes, and having gifted the visitors their equaliser, he then produced a save that kept Reading in the hunt - and which meant Sidwell would leave the pitch as the match-winner.

Firstly, Hahnemann let Marlon King in to equalise after 71 minutes when he left his area but fluffed his clearance. That levelled the game after Scott Murray's header at the far post 10 minutes into the second half had given Reading the lead.

But Hahnemann then atoned for his error with a flying save from another King shot, and five minutes later, Nicky Forster teed up Sidwell, with the England Under-21 midfielder sidefooting in the winner to bring a smile to Coppell's face.

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Shorey, Brown, Williams, Newman; Hughes, Sidwell, Harper (Salako, 78), Murray; Forster, Goater (Watson, 87). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Mackie, Henderson.

Gillingham (4-4-2): J Brown; Nosworthy, Ashby, Hope, Cox; Hills (Perpetuini, 67), Smith, Hessenthaler, Saunders (Spiller, 90); King, Wallace (Sidibe, 81) Substitutes not used: Shaw, W Brown.

Referee: C Penton (Sussex).