Lita strikes again and keeps us all guessing

David Cuffley Striker Leroy Lita's future was well and truly under the spotlight again last night when he came off the bench to score in Reading's 4-0 Championship home win over Watford.

David Cuffley

Striker Leroy Lita's future was well and truly under the spotlight again last night when he came off the bench to score in Reading's 4-0 Championship home win over Watford.

Lita, appearing for the second game in a row since returning to the Madejski Stadium from his loan spell with Norwich City, replaced Kevin Doyle with 15 minutes to go and produced a trademark finish for the Royals' fourth goal in the televised match.

But Reading boss Steve Coppell was giving no clues about the former England Under-21 international's immediate future.

City boss Glenn Roeder revealed earlier in the day that �1m was the asking price for Lita if another club wanted to sign him on a permanent deal.

No surprise, then, that the Canaries cannot afford him, although Roeder insisted for the second time this week that a return to Carrow Road on loan was still in the balance.

Most Read

Lita, whose contract runs out in the summer, was given a warm welcome by Reading supporters on a frosty evening on his first home appearance since scoring seven times in 16 outings in three months with City, and he rewarded them with a goal.

It's a bonus for Coppell as the second-placed Royals step up their bid for automatic promotion.

He said: “It's no headache for me to have four strikers, I can assure you of that.

“It's a nice position to be in. My strikers are uncomfortable, which is what I want. Noel Hunt and Kevin Doyle both scored but so did Leroy so they can't relax.

“Leroy always gets a great reception here. I have no plan as such with him.

“He just wants to play football but I have two strikers who are in form and scoring goals so in the short term he is not going to start for us.

“But he has put Kevin and Noel under pressure now and if they don't produce the goods then I will put him in.”

Roeder will watch Lita's progress with interest over the next fortnight, but is still holding out hope of a deal.

“We haven't given up at all on Leroy, but the state of play there, undoubtedly, as Steve has said to him, is that he's willing to give him a chance in the squad,” said Roeder.

“So for the next couple of weeks I assume he will be staying at Reading and might stay there the rest of the season. I don't think they're in a hurry to let him go anywhere else and why should they be? They're in a great position in the Championship for automatic promotion, he's as good as any striker in the Championship as in his goal ratio, so if he at the moment is the fourth one they've got, it must be very nice for Steve to be in that position. I envy him a bit.”

Nevertheless, Roeder does not believe Lita will be satisfied with sitting on the bench for the rest of the season.

He said: “What we mustn't forget is that a big factor here is Leroy himself. He's the driver. Reading can only do so much, Reading can only make him stay for the second half of the season.

“If he says he doesn't want to, they can make him stay for the second half of the season. What they can't make him do is go somewhere else.

“I spoke to Leroy on a number of occasions and obviously the subject came up, even about him coming here permanently. He's not interested in going anywhere permanently at the moment. That's one of the last conversations I had with him. He said 'I've waited a long time to let the contract run down. I'd rather keep my options open until the summer and look at all the offers I get'.

“If he does that, he'll get plenty of offers, for sure, and between him, his agent and his family, I guess, they'll decide what he's going to do. Who knows? That might even be signing a new contract at Reading, but players out of contract now at this time of the year, they're the masters. They are in sole control of the situation, 99 per cent. The other one per cent is, if he did find somewhere he wanted to go, and Reading didn't want him to go there, they could put the block on him for the next four and a half months, but that's all.”

Whatever happens, Roeder is certain Coppell will not sell one of his strikers to a promotion rival.

“So if Wolverhampton Wanderers wanted him, which I suspect they do, it's highly unlikely that Steve's going to allow Leroy Lita to go to Wolves and score goals that might only put Reading in the play-offs instead of automatic promotion,” said Roeder.

“It doesn't matter what Wolves offer, really, even if they offered the �1m they want for him - their money back - no one is going to pay �1m because that's a quarter of a million pounds a month, plus salary. No one is going to do that.

“But even if Wolves wanted to do that, �1m, when Reading are playing for �40m or �50m next year, only the dunce of the class would do that, wouldn't they?”

It is this argument that keeps alive Roeder's hopes of renewing Lita's loan.

He said: “I can't see him moving permanently. I can still see him, potentially, moving on loan somewhere because he isn't going to be happy being the third or fourth striker. He's back into it now, he loves playing football and he doesn't want to spend the next four and a half months sitting on the bench or sitting in the stands.

“But he's proven enough now that even if he did sit in the stands for four and a half months, I still think in the summer the same people would come forward. He has a track record.

“You don't want to waste a week, let alone four and a half months.

“Most footballers are terrible watchers of football.”