Reading 0 Bolton Wanderers 2: Coppell comes to life as relegation fight comes into focus for Reading

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The Independent Football

You almost sense that Steve Coppell is quite happy to be reacquainted with a little football hardship. This home defeat against fellow strugglers Bolton, Reading's sixth league reverse in a row, brought the seriousness of their plight sharply into focus and the picture is far from rosy.

It was not always easy getting a smile out of Coppell even as he guided his team to their emphatic promotion from the Championship 18 months ago, and he hardly cut a chipper figure as Reading enjoyed a comfortable first season among the elite. Mention him as a potential England manager before Fabio Capello's arrival and all you were likely to get was a weary shake of the head.

No, it is only when failure comes back into view that Coppell really stirs. Perhaps a playing career brought to a premature end through injury at Manchester United, when they were between successful eras, helped brace him for future disappointments. The Royals manager has not been taken by surprise by the way things have unfolded.

"I've said consistently from October it has been any three from eight or nine [for the drop]," he reminded us. "We are now very firmly one of the eight or nine. We can't rest on what happened last season. We haven't been as fluent as we were last year, the momentum of wins has not flowed. The players are not daft. They know this is very much reality.'' Can he handle the pressure?

"Sure. I'm healthy so it is not a problem," he says matter-of-factly. "The only way out of it is to create a better working environment and bring more out of the players. For their part the players have to prepare better and play better than they have done for most of this season."

Marcus Hahnemann did his bit early on, keeping out a Matt Taylor penalty. But still he was beaten once in each half as, first, Kevin Nolan finished off a typically direct Wanderers move with a precise finish, then Heidar Helguson kept his nerve after Taylor's shot had cannoned into his path off the unfortunate Graeme Murty.

It was Bolton's first away win of the season and one the excellent Nolan hopes will help nudge Capello, who has overlooked the midfielder for his first England squad.

"I am not surprised but I am upset and hurt as I thought with the new manager coming in that I might have had a shout," Nolan said.

"But I'm not going to let it get me down, I'll just keep doing what I'm doing; playing well and scoring goals, and if I keep that up, hopefully the manager will give me a chance."

Goals: Nolan (34), 0-1; Helguson (58), 0-2.

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Ingimarsson, Cisse, Shorey; Doyle, Harper (Sonko, 73), Matejovsky, Hunt; Kitson (Oster, 67), Lita (Long, 76). Substitutes not used: De la Cruz, Federici.

Booked: Lita, Kitson, Ingimarsson.

Bolton (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Steinsson, Cahill, O'Brien, Gardner; Guthrie (Cohen, 75), Campo, Nolan, Taylor (Samuel, 67); Helguson (Diouf, 67), Davies. Substitutes not used: Al Habsi, Rasiak.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffs)

Booked: Davies.

Man of the match: Nolan

Attendance: 21,893