Reading 2 Aston Villa 0: Sidwell's double keeps Reading on course for Europe

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The Independent Football

There was no question over the identity of the man of the match, but Steve Coppell, the Reading manager, paid tribute to some of his unsung heroes at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.

While Steve Sidwell scored both goals and could easily have doubled his tally after a fine exhibition of attacking midfield play, the five men behind him were an equally important part of an equation which might just add up to Uefa Cup football next season.

In their first campaign in the Premiership Reading are sixth in the table after four successive victories; in all competitions they have won seven and drawn one of eight matches this year.

Marcus Hahnemann, the goalkeeper, and Graeme Murty and Nicky Shorey, the full-backs, were at Reading before Coppell arrived, and played for the club in what is now League One. Ivar Ingimarsson played under Coppell in the same division, at Brentford, and his central defensive partner, Andre Bikey, is feeling his way after arriving on a season's loan from Lokomotiv Moscow. The 22-year-old Cameroonian was the only player in Saturday's team who did not play in the Championship last season.

"We have had players who at various stages have been outstanding," Coppell said. "I said last year that they have all had the best season of their careers, but I think for us to maintain our status in this division is by far greater an achievement than being promoted last year."

Reading's defence, who kept a clean sheet for the ninth time in 27 Premiership matches, needed to be at their sharpest against a Villa team who had the better of the last hour. John Carew and Ashley Young look a promising partnership but were rarely given a look at goal.

For the first half-hour in particular Reading's attacking play was electric. Glen Little tore Gareth Barry apart on the right flank and Stephen Hunt was always a threat on the left. If Leroy Lita and Shane Long made limited headway through the middle, they at least opened the way for Sidwell's foraging runs from midfield.

The former Arsenal trainee - Coppell tried in vain to recruit him at Crystal Palace when he was a schoolboy - put Reading ahead after a training-ground near-post routine from Hunt's corner, and repeatedly got into scoring positions with intelligent runs from deep.

The only surprise was that he did not score again until injury time, when he steered the ball past Thomas Sorensen after drifting past Gavin McCann and exchanging a neat one-two with Dave Kitson. He might even have completed his hat-trick a minute later, but shot straight at Sorensen after running on to Lita's through ball.

Sidwell has yet to sign a new contract with Reading - European football next season might just persuade him to stay.

Goals: Sidwell (16) 1-0; (90) 2-0.

Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Bikey, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Little (Oster, 77), Sidwell, Harper, Hunt; Lita, Long (Kitson, 62). Substitutes not used: Federici (gk), De la Cruz, Duberry.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; Bardsley, Cahill, Mellberg, Barry; Agbonlahor (Berger, 75), McCann, Petrov, Maloney; Young (Davis, 88), Carew. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Laursen, Ridgewell.

Referee: M Clattenburg (Co Durham).

Booked: Reading Harper, Bikey; Aston Villa Young.

Man of the match: Sidwell.

Attendance: 24,122.

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