On February the 6th, Brian McDermott was handed the Premier League’s Manager of the Month award for pulling Reading clear of the relegation zone with wins over West Ham, Newcastle, West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland whilst also battling to a draw against Chelsea. A run of just one defeat in seven saw McDermott take the plaudits while the club reaped credit for refusing to buckle on their manager despite only winning one if the 19 games prior to the meeting with West Ham at the end of December.
Four matches later and that patience has snapped. McDermott becomes the fifth Premier League sacking of the season after defeats against Stoke, Wigan and Everton, as well as a morale-sapping reversal to Aston Villa on Saturday which saw the white-flag being prepared to be hoisted above the Madejski Stadium as the Royals’ Premier League status teeters on the edge. Owner Anton Zingarevich has launched one final desperate reach for survival by opening the void in a hope he can find a replacement who can spark an immediate march to survival.
That of course, is rather naive of an owner who has acted with just nine games remaining despite watching McDermott constantly scrape along the lower reaches of the table this season with a defence that had shipped 56 goals, the highest tally in the league. It would be extremely credulous of the Russian owner to believe a new man can slot in with such haste in order to transform the club within the space of nine games. He had the excuse, disposing with sentiment and pressing with pragmatism, to sack McDermott beforehand, yet has chosen to do so when his problem is now all but irreversible.
Perhaps he has chosen to freshen things up in the hope of drumming up interest in order to shift more tickets ahead of next year, but in McDermott, he had a man who was already supported by the fans and had experience of leading Reading out of the league they are likely to find themselves in next season. The Irishman was respected, dignified, had a reputation for attractive football and also had an extensive knowledge of the club having been employed in Berkshire for four years. The owner has now dispensed with that in favour of a near-impossible search for a miracle-worker.
It was with frugal restriction that McDermott was forced to approach Premier League life. At the other promoted clubs, Nigel Adkins was breaking Southampton’s transfer record to sign Gaston Ramirez, West Ham’s Sam Allardyce spent £9 million alone on Matt Jarvis while McDermott was permitted to spend a total of £5 million on Adrian Mariappa and Chris Gunter.
More players arrived in January but it was still on a severe budget, Hope Akpan and Nick Blackman were plucked from League One, Stephen Kelly came discarded from Fulham and Portuguese centre-back Daniel Carrico was bought on the cheap from debt-hit Sporting Lisbon.
The rest were all free transfers as McDermott was effectively left to assemble a squad who were realistically not prepared to compete at a higher level than the second tier. Now they are heading back there, the 51 year old former-scout has become the 40th manager in the Football League this season to pay for his job.
One of that obscene tally was Adkins, who joined McDermott in gaining promotion up from the Championship last season, sacked in favour of a foreign boss who appeared to the owner to be a more attractive proposition. The replacement Mauricio Pochettino has won just one of his past ten matches as he continues to reinforce the old adage that the “grass is not always greener on the other side”. Pochettino however, arrived in England with his job remit of avoiding relegation still attainable, Zingarevich’s new employee faces his with time emphatically running out.
McDermott, still learning the management trade having only coached Woking and Slough Town of the non-leagues, was primed to further his experience with another year in the second tier, the division he stormed to the Championship of by producing some swashbuckling football. However, he will now, rather harshly, not get that chance.
Unexpected sackings in the modern game are nothing new, yet unexpected sackings when it’s too late to employ somebody who can do anything about it still have a quality of uniqueness, even under the guise of foreign ownership which seems to smash the maxim “football never loses its ability to surprise” to smithereens every week.
Football’s contagion of irrational thought has now hit Reading, unfortunately, they were doing so well.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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