The result at Bramall Lane might not have gone in Brian McDermott’s favour but the decision of Sir John Madejski about his future in the manager role did. Despite the club slipping to 23rd in the table, the caretaker has been made the permanent occupant of the Madejski Stadium dug out on a 12-month rolling contract.
There has been much speculation in recent weeks as to if and when McDermott would be given the reins to keep. The magnificent FA Cup showing by Reading has done everything to aid his cause but the cup run has been set amongst further decline in the league. Performances have been hit and miss in the Championship, often in the same game. A poor first half performance at Nottingham Forest was followed by a dominant second half showing, whilst against Sheffield United the Royals were often on top but still came away with a 3-0 defeat after some poor defending let the Blades in too many times. Madejski has had various factors to consider in making his decision but the key will have been whether enough has been shown in league action to persuade him McDermott can keep Reading up. Seemingly he believes the former Chief Scout and reserve team boss can, but the cup form needs to be transferred to games where it really matters, sooner rather than later.
It has been regularly mentioned that McDermott knows the club inside out and this has been one of his major selling points. A few months ago when Brendan Rodgers was handed the manager’s job, it was said that he was the right man to take the young squad forward as he knew all the fledgling players from his time in charge of the youth team. Promoting from within is a policy in keeping with Reading Football Club and it is good to see people that genuinely care about the team given a chance. Whether this is the best move remains to be seen as this policy did not pay off with Rodgers. Sacking Rodgers still seems somewhat harsh six weeks on, particularly as the position has got worse rather than better. The FA Cup run has been a massive fillip and McDermott deserves a lot of credit for masterminding the victories over Liverpool and Burnley. These triumphs have the potential to mask shortcomings elsewhere. While it is lovely to have the experience of going to Anfield and coming away with a win, it will all seem hollow if the club end up in League One next season.
It would be unfair to write off McDermott based on a few games but it would also have been wrong to appoint him based on cup success. Behind the scenes, there must have been clear signs that the players are behind their new boss and are willing to give their all to help him get them out of the current mess. Sheffield Wednesday have seen the appointment of Alan Irvine pay dividends, winning their first three games under him. Their fourth match saw a defeat to Scunthorpe, a result that leaves both teams several points clear of the Royals in the race for safety. McDermott will hope that his appointment being made permanent will be a boost to the club and they need to use any positive vibes to go on a winning run. Four away matches in his first five league games were a baptism of fire for the former Arsenal player at the start of his managerial career. The recent games at the Mad Stad against Premier League opposition have been a big lift to the crowd and it is important the team can build on this in the four home league fixtures in the next month. Creating their own turf into a fortress will be the foundation required to move out of danger.
McDermott will learn very quickly that problems are amplified amongst the fans if they pay their money and see the side lose each week. Away followers make up a minority of the fan base. While those that travel are the hardcore supporters, it is the home support that can help turn things around for the side. Winning home fixtures is fundamental for teams and anything picked up on the road can be viewed as a bonus. Reading have the chance between now and the end of February to pick up some much needed points in Berkshire, but if they fail to do this then the mood could deteriorate further. McDermott must gear his team up to win at the Madejski and then hopefully the momentum will be carried into their visits elsewhere.