Middlesbrough 0 Reading 1: Coppell keeps cool as Harper offers sight of safety

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The Independent Football

Steve Coppell, the Reading manager, hailed James Harper's dramatic last minute winner at the Riverside Stadium as a "massive, massive boost" to his side's battle to escape from the relegation zone.

Harper coolly finished off a Stephen Hunt cross to give the Royals a first away win of the season and end a run of eight Premier League defeats. Coppell said: "It was a great result for us. Having not won away from home all season we had to approach the game in a certain manner and our game-plan went reasonably well. We were mindful of the 120 minutes Middlesbrough had played in midweek and we knew it was going to be factor in the last 10 to 15 minutes and that proved to be the case.

"A clean sheet would have been significant and to get all three points was a massive, massive boost. Psychologically I hope it is is going to have a real long-term effect."

Coppell said he had never given up hope during his team's dismal run and that he is confident the spirit among his players can spur them towards survival. Reading are still in the bottom three but are within touching distance of teams above them, including Boro.

Coppell said: "There are an awful lot of managers who are uncomfortable down at the bottom and that discomfort continues for ourselves. But we have that determination both individually and as a team."

Gareth Southgate, the Middlesbrough manager, said his side had paid a heavy price for their exertions in a midweek FA Cup replay victory against Sheffield United.

He said: "The way they [Reading] play is full of energy and we knew we'd be lacking some of that today. But it's disappointing because we should have seen it through and we got caught with a sucker punch.

"We tried to freshen the team up a little bit but it was going to be one of those under-par days. Reading did a good job because they played in the way they knew would make us use as much energy as we had left."

Instead of standing 10 points clear of the relegation zone Boro are now within four points of the bottom three and Southgate knows his men face a long battle before securing survival. "It could have been 10 points but it isn't," he said. "Anyone from ourselves down is conscious of what is going on around the league and as good a run as we've had we have still got to grind and scrap it out."

Southgate said he had no complaints over the 77th-minute incident in which Stewart Downing tumbled in the penalty area and, instead of being given a penalty, was booked for diving.

Southgate said: "It was hard to see because of the speed at which he was running, so if anything clips him it is going to knock him off balance. I think the referee probably made the right decision."

Goal: Harper (90) 0-1.

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Young, Wheater, Pogatetz, Grounds, O'Neil, Boateng (Johnson, 74), Arca (Cattermole, 59), Downing, Alves (Mido, 68), Sanli. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Hines.

Reading: Hahnemann, Rosenior, Ingimarsson, Bikey, Shorey, Oster (Kitson, 68), Harper, Matejovsky (Kebé, 85), Hunt, Doyle (Cissé, 85), Long. Substitutes not used: Federici (gk), Sonko.

Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).

Booked: Middlesbrough Wheater, Boateng, Downing; Reading Rosenior, Bikey, Shorey, Hunt, Long.

Man of the match: Harper.

Attendance: 23,273.