Right decisions, wrong time as Reading prepare for next season

The decision to appoint Nigel Adkins as Reading manager is one which pleases the Reading faithful. After his harsh sacking by Southampton chairman Nicola Cortese, many Royals fans were pleased that their own new head honcho Anton Zingarevich was continuing with the regime which had brought so much success in recent years under Brian McDermott.

Right decisions, wrong time as Reading prepare for next season

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March 26th, 2013

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Unfortunately that loyalty was tested to the max after losses against Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa all but confirmed Reading’s quick stay in the Premier League would only last one season. Whilst it was frustrating to witness such lifeless performances signal the beginning of the end of top flight football so quickly, the end of McDermott’s reign came suddenly and without warning, shocking most of the fanbase. Not the fact that he had been told to clear his desk, but the timing.

Sure, the Royals had just lost two crunch games, but just a month earlier the former scout had won Manager Of The Month after some incredible comebacks and results which breathed new life into the season. That had seemingly secured him the job at least until May, but the last four games of his reign returned no points, leading Zingarevich to decide enough was enough. Perhaps January was a false blessing; perhaps the Russian chairman had decided earlier to remove the man at the helm but couldn’t do so in the face of such results.

Yet Zingarevich had the perfect opportunity in December, when a new manager could have come in and had a visible effect with half of the season to go and the all-important transfer window to make last-ditch signings. Going into 2013 Reading had won just two games – a victory against Everton which was lucky to say the least, and the last game of 2012 was a win over West Ham. Sure, it would have been harsh to sack a manager on the back of a victory, but the timing of it would have made more sense than bringing in a new man with 8 games to attempt the seemingly impossible.

Reading’s January signings were somewhat underwhelming after a summer which also proved to be less successful than the supposed Russian millions promised. Some Championship signings, a few Premier League free transfers, but largely unsuccessful in the grand scheme of things. Apparently a club-record fee for former player Gylfi Sigurdsson was agreed but the pieces didn’t fall into place – instead January saw two League One players (Hope Akpan and Nick Blackman) and Fulham right-back Stephen Kelly arrive for little outlay. If Anton was willing to pay £10m for one player, was there not the back-up plan of investing this money in two or three others? Was more money available to McDermott or did he make the best of what he was given? Will the new man be allocated a veritable war chest with the parachute payments due to arrive next summer? Very little is known about Zingarevich’s fortune but the dealings so far this season don’t suggest a sugar daddy akin to Fernandes or Abramovich.

Brian McDermott’s last few months were fraught with player issues and fallings-out. Danny Guthrie’s two months of exile after some choice language in the direction of the Reading manager; Alex Pearce’s refusal to sign a new contract leading to the Royals’ best centre-back being dropped for crucial games; even Pavel Pogrebnyak’s sending-off against Wigan for a petulant kick at Maynor Figueroa suggested discontent. He didn’t lose the whole dressing room, but the rumours emanating from the training ground showed the once-happy family was slamming doors and arguing behind the scenes.

It all came to a head against Aston Villa when the Reading fans derided McDermott’s substitutions extremely vocally. His loyalty to players such as Jobi McAnuff and Mikele Leigertwood were bearing traces of the past and Steve Coppell, whose resistance to change and “loyalties” were one of the reasons suggested for Reading’s last Premier League relegation. Zingarevich, from his central position, was witness to the frustration and there’s no doubting that these jeers drew his finger closer to the trigger. But for him to pull it when he did was totally unexpected – and the mob mentality of the Reading fans quickly saw the damage they had done.

Should McDermott have been given more time? In retrospect, removing him from his position now will be the right decision but there’s so little time to repair the damage that it’s impossible to say whether his replacement will deliver more than McDermott could have. This side has performed best when the pressure is off – the charge into the playoffs two years ago, and the streak of wins which ultimately delivered the Championship last season came when expectations were low. Perhaps with little at stake now his side could have once more pulled it out of the fire, and coming up short would have in all likelihood delivered his P45 anyway. Again, the timing of this decision would have made sense – a new season, a new manager, a new assessment of the squad and their abilities. But in March with only eight games to instill a new belief and new system in the squad? Unlikely.

Every second counts – the comeback wins and injury-time goals Reading have seen over the past few years mean Royals fans know this more than any others. One assumed that as soon as Brian was sacked, the replacement would be installed as soon as that week. A fortnight has passed and only now has Adkins been confirmed as the definite replacement. In the meantime Eamonn Dolan has taken the side to Old Trafford and creditably only lost by a goal. But with this two-week international break now nearly over, why was the new manager not appointed with significant time to work on training and tactics? In all likelihood it will be Dolan taking charge at Arsenal with Adkins either on the bench or watching from the stands. And by all reports, Adkins had already rejected Reading until the board came back with a better offer. If he was always the first choice, it’s taken far too long to secure him – and these two weeks will effectively have been lost to the ether.

Of course with such low expectations, there’s little pressure on the new manager, whether it be Adkins or any other name the bookies want to take the plunge on. But for that man to save the season is simply expecting too much now and saving face will be the remit for the new head honcho. If he performs a miracle (and it will take something of Biblical proportions), the memory of McDermott will be long banished and a new hero will have the freedom of Reading town centre. But the ruthless nature and somewhat illogical timing of Brian’s removal will stick in loyal Royals’ minds. A new era has begun in Berkshire with the arrival of Anton Zingarevich and the removal of Brian McDermott – but we might have to wait until June to see the dawn.

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