Reading went down fighting as Steve Coppell’s side accompanied Derby and Birmingham into the Championship despite their 4-0 victory at Pride Park on Sunday.
Reading found a cure for their failure to score goals in the fixture that was the perfect get-out-of-jail free card for Coppell and company, but it was still not enough to grant them a stay of execution because of Fulham’s victory over FA Cup finalists Portsmouth.
Coppell has been non-committal on his future but he will now assess his position – just three years after guiding Reading into the top flight by a record 16 points in the Championship.
The sight of Coppell making a late walk onto the Pride Park playing surface, after the final whistle to show his appreciation to over 3,000 dejected Reading fans was a poignant one and whether he returns for another season has to be a doubt.
Raising Reading from the Championship will be a huge ask for Coppell as it will be for Derby manager Paul Jewell as he watched his side concede four goals for the ninth time this season as Leroy Lita, Kevin Doyle, Dave Kitson and James Harper further embarrassed the worst defence in the top division.
Reading could not have done more than they did, but their failings in front of goal in the last six games proved to be their undoing, as it left them no longer the masters of their own destiny – but hopes were raised after only 14 minutes when Harper ended a run of 9 hours and 25 minutes without a goal.
Lita had already wasted two wonderful opportunities before Kitson’s lay-off enabled Harper to produce a wonderful curling effort from the right-hand edge of the area to defeat Derby goalkeeper Roy Carroll with a looping finish.
Coppell’s nerves should never have been so ragged, but Lita somehow failed to control twice when alone in the penalty area with only Carroll barring his way, as Polish midfielder Marek Matejovsky completely dominated the opening 45 minutes.
Derby have broken every one of the un-wanted Premier League records – but will still bank over 52 million pounds for their season of ineptitude in the top flight and the closest they came to adding to the anxieties of Reading was with former Manchester United midfielder David Jones’s 25-yard drive which Marcus Hahnemann was happy to tip away at full stretch.
It was a rare moment of discomfort for Reading and within 15 minutes of the re-start their fears were over thanks to a mistake by Carroll. His failure to hold Nicky Shorey’s long-range shot, allowed Lita to retrieve the ball and pull it back across goal to leave Kitson with the simplest of tap-ins.
Substitute Doyle, only on the field for four minutes, converted from close range, at the second attempt after Carroll’s initial save and Lita powered in a diving header in stoppage time, after Stephen Hunt’s cross, but it was not enough.
As for Derby, it was a familiar end to a depressing and chastening season where they simply have not been good enough. They fall into the Championship as the worst team the Premier League has ever seen with only one victory all season. It will be a long-haul back for both sides.
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