Wednesday 22 January 2020

Crowning glory for McDermott

Staying put pays off for Royals coach, writes Dion Fanning

Less than a year ago when he walked off the pitch at Wembley, Brian McDermott couldn't picture promotion the following April. In fact, he could imagine only one thing -- "never seeing a football pitch again".

The defeat to Swansea in the play-off final left him so low that all that has happened to Reading since seems astonishing.

McDermott is a practical man and one of the practical problems with losing a play-off final in late May was the reality that it would rob him off his star player, Shane Long, and leave little time to plan for replacements.

This year, Reading won't have that problem. They secured promotion when they beat Nottingham Forest last Tuesday. McDermott celebrated that night but spent the rest of the week preparing for yesterday's game against Crystal Palace. Yesterday's results mean they go up as champions.

There were many decisive points in the season. McDermott recalled some of them on Friday night but there was one, his decision to stay with Reading and turn down the Wolves job, which he didn't mention. McDermott stayed at the club he loves and now he will take them into the Premier League.

"When you've got a good group of people like this, it's a good place to work," he says. "Everyone is pulling in the same direction."

At the start of the season, nothing seemed certain. Reading won one of their first six league matches and lost five games in a row, a spell McDermott believed was the players coming to terms with the play-off defeat.

In late September, they were two down at Bristol City with an hour played. Reading scored three times in the last 20 minutes. McDermott began to think the defeat was out of their system as well as out of his.

Two months later, they came from behind twice to win at Ipswich, another key moment, but there have been many in a league which doesn't give a team a break. "You have a lot of games in a short period in this league, we won't have that next year."

It is all McDermott is expecting. Ask him how his players will react or how he will react and he replies, "I've no idea".

He has no need for the spiel some managers might come out with. McDermott plays down his accomplishments. His wry sense of detachment will help him in the Premier League. He has no interest in sounding more in control than he is in a world that spins out of control.

Yet, he has a team which knows what to do and doesn't stop doing it. On Good Friday, Leeds came to Reading. Within 12 minutes, Leeds were down to 10 men but they kept kicking. The most astonishing thing about the first half was that Leeds still had 10 men at the end of it. The game was scoreless and stayed that way for 80 minutes. A draw would have kept Reading in second place but victory would have put them top.

For 80 minutes, they were kicked and for 80 minutes they kept doing the same thing, playing their game, getting the ball wide and putting in crosses. "They're relentless this lot," McDermott says. Reading scored twice in the last 10 minutes and went top. A week later they went to Southampton and won. The relentlessness continued.

McDermott will now take a short break -- he's planning a trip to Las Vegas -- before thinking about next season. His story is as crazy as Reading's. He thinks it's straightforward and simple. As a manager, he just does the opposite of everything he saw being done in management when he was a player. It isn't simple and McDermott and Reading won't be under-estimated next season.

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