Coppell thankful for last chance to stay up

It was in his trademark dour tone (two octaves lower than Leonard Cohen) that Steve Coppell last night issued his rallying call in Reading's fight for Premier League survival. "Just be grateful that after the season we've had we still have this opportunity to stay up," he declared.

OK, it was hardly Churchill, but, still, it was easy to spot the direction from where the manager was coming. As Coppell surveys a season that has been a giddying range of massive downs, mini ups, followed by one almighty down again, the Berkshire side has every reason to praise the stars that they can go into tomorrow's final game at woeful Derby County with, at the very least, an enticing whiff of escape.

"Given the way our season has gone, a run of eight games without picking up a point, now six without scoring, I think we should be really thankful that we have this chance," said Coppell, who last season guided the freshly-promoted club into eighth. "It's very important we should be relishing it."

There are a few reasons why the fans might not agree, not least Reading's inability to locate the net in their recent freefall (two points from six games). While it is eminently possible to envisage Fulham dropping points at Portsmouth, what some of the Royals do not find quite so straightforward is imagining their team firing that campaign-saving winner. Even Coppell felt able to express his own doubts in this regard. "I can't be confident the goals will come," he said. "I have an inner belief that we are capable of scoring goals, but obviously given our recent record there is no way I can say I'm confident. But there is a determination here."

Somewhat understandably, Coppell was not prepared to up the ante in the so-called "slanging match" triggered by his assistant Kevin Dillon's comments that "if we can't beat Derby it will be hard to take". On Thursday, Paul Jewell, the Derby manager, threw a few barbs back towards the Madejski, but Coppell was not interested in keeping the rally going. "It was a misunderstanding," he said. "We're hardly in a position where from a superior vantage point we can say we should beat anyone. If Paul wants to use anything he thinks we said to motivate Derby then fine. We have no axe to grind."

On the subject of the axe, some enthusiastic in-between-the-line readers could have become excited by the merest of hints that Coppell might not last much longer than next week's post-mortem, either by his own volition or by that of his chairman, John Madejski. When asked whether he will stay whatever, Coppell replied: "I can't say that. Let's get Sunday out of the way and go from there." Yet he was quick to qualify this ominous comment. "That's not leaving myself an out," he said. "My whole concentration is on Sunday. You know, our situation is black and white, there is no compromised take on it. If we win we have a chance. If we draw we have less of a chance. If we lose we have no chance. That's it."

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