Before a ball was even kicked this season, many people dismissed Reading as relegation certainties, and ten games into the season this view was further enhanced by the Royals failure to win a game. However, now they have started to turn a few heads with an excellent run of form which has seen them climb outside the drop zone, and a lot of credit has to be given to Brian McDermott.
The Royals are a much changed outfit from their last stint in the top flight. Steve Coppell guided the club to their first appearance in the Premier League in 2006-07, where they took many by surprise achieving an eighth placed finish. They fell foul of the ‘second season syndrome’ however and were relegated back to the Championship, remaining absent from the top league ever since until McDermott masterminded their promotion last season.
Nevertheless in typical fashion of the fickle nature in modern day football, it wasn’t too long ago that there were mutterings calling for his head, claiming he was out of his depth and tactically inept to manage at the top level. This was a new challenge for the Reading chief and admittedly one which he took some time getting to grips with. Things can’t always work straight away, that’s just reality and the heirarchy can feel good about themselves for resisting making any knee jerk reactions when the Berkshire club seemed to be getting cut adrift along with QPR at the foot of the table. After all, we are used to seeing ludicrous sackings these days, Nigel Adkins from Southampton a recent example, albeit Mauricio Pochettino has made a promising start as their new boss.
For starters, McDermott’s character has got to be lauded. As level headed as he was in the way in which he conducted himself when his side weren’t performing and he was receiving criticism, he has been every bit as composed during his sides good run of form, ensuring that he doesn’t get carried away. He has also remained completely confident in his player’s ability to stay up, never as much as batting an eyelid at the suggestion that it was becoming too much of an uphill task for them. When a manager is genuinely that confident, it is bound to transmit to the players. The Royals have lost just once in their last seven league games, picking up four wins, and often coming from behind to show the kind of character that encompasses that of their manager.
He has also quashed claims that he didn’t have the tactical knowledge for England’s elite league by tweaking the side and personnel appropriately to find a formula which has seen them picking up points regularly in the last couple of months. At the start of the season McDermott persisted with his philosophy of playing 4-4-2 but eventually realised that Reading were too easy to play against and it wasn’t going to work. There was a startling stat that they had allowed opponents 306 shots on goal in the first 17 league games. He has since adapted the tactics and crowded the midfield by often deploying a 4-5-1 formation and while they are still vulnerable at the back, they have become a lot harder to beat.
Speaking of the learning curve of Premier League management, McDermott was quoted by the Mirror as saying:
“I’ve learned a lot in a short space of time about what is required in this league.
“My philosophy has always been to entertain and take teams on. We did that against Arsenal and got beat 7-5. We did that against Man United and got beat 4-3. That’s not good for a manager.
“We are entertaining but now are tougher to play against.”
Along with this, the Royals have started to enjoy a bit more luck of late and things falling in their favour, something which every team needs to an extent. Adam Le Fondre’s heroics off the bench have also given them them a priceless weapon in their armoury, a player with a knack for scoring goals. He has now netted 10 times in just over 11 games worth of league football. McDermott’s management of him has also been wise, resisting the urge to hand him a regular starting berth, and instead sticking to his guns in the best interests of the team.
There seems to be a certain togetherness in the squad and this is key in any battle, something which for example QPR may lack, after once again signing several new faces and having to bed them into the team in difficult circumstances. McDermott has also found his feet in the Premier League and doesn’t look phased by what still remains a very difficult task of ensuring that top flight football returns to the Madejski Stadium next season. They have certainly given themselves a chance that didn’t seem to be there a couple of months ago though.