For Reading fans, a look at the football headlines on Thursday will have elicited a pang of jealousy.
Like seeing the love of your life with another man, there will have been a wistful feeling of sorrow and regret for Royals fans seeing their dear but departed former manager Steve Coppell unveiled as the new boss of Bristol City. As good a job as Brian McDermott has done in his short spell of revival in the Madejski Stadium hotseat, Coppell will always have a special place in the hearts of the Reading public. Short of McDermott winning the Premier League crown, it will be hard for him to surpass what Sir Steve achieved at the club, with both records broken and new heights reached during his tenure. From winning promotion to the top flight away at Leicester and winning the Championship title a week later at home to Derby, to finishing eighth in the Premier League at the first time of asking to miss the UEFA Cup by just one point and place, Coppell was responsible for the best years any Biscuitman has ever witnessed. Whilst all his worshippers in Reading will no doubt wish him the best in his new job, it will still take some getting used to seeing Coppell in the opposition dugout when he begins his duties next season. Any manager who has supporters protesting for him to stay at a club has to be pretty special, and Coppell was just that in his time at the Mad Stad.
As a former ember of Coppell’s backroom team at Reading, McDermott will have cast a supportive eye to his old mentor upon the announcement of his appointment. That aside, he will be far more preoccupied with getting on with the job that was once Coppell’s, but is now exclusively his. The play-offs are mathematically out of reach after the midweek draw with Scunthorpe United, rendering the remaining games with Watford and Preston as little more than dead rubbers to the Royals. That does not mean Reading will be as good as on their summer holidays already. McDermott has far too much respect for the division to drop the pace, particularly as Saturday’s hosts Watford are still at risk of relegation. With the Reading boss set for his first close-season in charge of the team, there will be players looking to earn or keep their place in his plans for next season by putting in big performances at the end of this campaign. The likes of James Henry have been eased back into the first team picture in recent weeks, and these two lower pressure games will offer him further chances to impress, most likely again from the bench. Loanees Ryan Bertrand, Andy Griffin and Zurab Khizanishvili may have designs on permanent deals at the club, and whilst they have surely impressed enough for Reading to be interested in making something happen, this will be their last chance to convince McDermott to invest.
The last few minutes at Glanford Park will have been disappointing but should not take the gloss off another strong performance from the team. The hosts should have been reduced to 10 men moments before Gylfi Sigurdsson scored Reading’s second from the penalty spot, but Cliff Byrne survived his indiscretion without a red card. The equaliser took a heavy deflection and on another day the Royals would have held out to win either 2-0 or 2-1. The point was enough for Scunthorpe to stay in the division, and was a further reminder of how far Reading have come under McDermott. A few months ago, it looked like the Royals would have been hoping for a similar achievement, with fans praying to be able to celebrate survival. Instead, it was Scunny who had their moment of relief, with Reading busied only by thoughts of just missing out on the top six.
The visit to Watford could have seen a hostile return for Brendan Rodgers, but instead will be a less-heated meeting under McDermott’s charge. There will still be a spattering of vitriolic reactions from unforgiving Hornets fans, but there will be less anger without their perceived Judas present and more focus just on achieving survival. Vicarage Road has not been the most inspiring venue for the Royals in recent seasons, with successive goalless draws in the Championship-winning season and the debut Premier League campaign, followed by a 2-2 draw last season, best remembered for the phantom goal awarded to Reading. With Watford looking for a win to end their relegation fears but not in good form by any stretch of the imagination, there will be the opportunity for McDermott’s side to sign off in front of their loyal away fans with a charismatic victory not seen by Royals fans in Hertfordshire for some time.
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