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A fork in the road, to stick or twist with Brian McDermott?

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Six months ago if you'd asked any Reading fan if they thought Brian would be out of a job before Christmas, you'd have been directed towards the nearest mental health facility and measured up for a nice new white coat. This weekend the BBC Radio Berkshire airwaves and the internet were flooded with calls for Brian McDermott to be sacked or resign. While many, including Chairman Sir John Madejski and probably the majority of Reading fans, are still behind the man who took us back to the Premier League, very few of them won't at least be asking questions as we face up to an immediate return back to the Championship. So, should he stay or should he go?

Christopher Lee

What's gone wrong?

The form of key players:

Last season and some of the first names on the team sheet would have been Federici, Harte, Gorkss, Leigertwood, Kebe and Roberts. This year none of those names have performed to their best, with Federici making several costly mistakes, Harte and Gorkss looking unable to cut it at the top level and Leigertwood sadly a shadow of his imposing 2010-12 form. Jimmy Kebe has battled with injuries all season and our one true match winner has been a non-feature, even when he has got on the pitch this year.

Teams can usually survive a player or two going off the boil, it happens to every team but to have so many previously dependable and experienced figures all go off form together is tough at the best of times, not least when you need every drop of talent possible from a small squad.

Is that something Brian can control?

We can only really speculate but he's previously been able to get the best out of the players at his disposal and the way he rejuvenated players like Leigertwood, Kebe and Long was seen as a major strength of our former chief scout.

Bad signings:

Brian brought in seven first teamers this summer, with Nicky Shorey, Danny Guthrie, Garath McCleary, Pavel Pogrebnyak, Chris Gunter, Adrian Mariappa and Stuart Taylor all added to the ranks. The total number of starts for those seven?

45 starts from a possible 105. Even if you take Taylor out of the equation that's 45/90 and 12 of those have come from Nicky Shorey. To get just 33 starts from players who've cost a combined £5m plus two of our biggest earners in Pogrebnyak and Guthrie is poor, very, very poor.

We don't know what budget Brian had to work with but by all accounts he spent what he had. He was quick to tell the media he'd got all of the players he'd wanted but I'm sure he'd have happily spent more.

The problem isn't so much that he's not been able to spend £25m+ like Southampton. While that's an issue the bigger problem is that the player's he's brought in to improve an arguably average Championship side have seen themselves forced out by those same players. Who thought Jay Tabb would have four more starts than Guthrie? Who thought that Mariappa and Gunter would have just 15 games between them from a possible 30, despite paying nearly £5m for the pair. Reading's record of Premier League signings is just shocking and sadly one man has been at the club and influential in all of those deals, Brian McDermott.

This is one area where he has to be held accountable. Even if those signings weren't superstars they should still have been better than what we had and in that area so far it's been a dismal failure. How much he had to do with signings like Cisse, Fae, Halford etc we don't know but Reading's good signings have been few and far between in five Premier League transfer windows, with Brian in charge of the most recent and crucial one.

Injuries:

It's been easy to forget just how many injuries to key players we've had this year.

Jason Roberts, Jem Karacan, Adrian Mariappa, Jimmy Kebe, Pavel Pogrebnyak, Danny Guthrie, Sean Morrison, Alex McCarthy have all been on the injured list this season, with McCarthy now out for the season.

Heading into the season and those players would all have been identified as key to our survival chances and while McCarthy and Morrison may not have been before the year, they've certainly been important since they've come in.

Of course we're not alone on the injury front but to have so many key cogs injured within the first four months is a tough blow, with Karacan and Guthrie particularly key given how sparse our options have been in the middle this year.

This is something that's generally been beyond Brian's control though in the cases of, Kebe and Karacan you could perhaps pin some blame on the manager for rushing them back after injury kept them out to end last season. Again that's speculation and on the whole I don't think you can really pin it on anything but bad luck.

Backroom bust-ups:

This is something we all feared upon promotion and sadly it's come to pass. Just like our last Premier League stint we've been hit with unwelcome stories from the dressing room and in at least one case it's prevented our best side from being on the pitch.

First was Adam Federici, with the club and goalkeeper both offering different reasons why the Aussie 'keeper was axed after the Peterborough game. Then followed a Twitter row involving Federici's girlfriend that couldn't have helped things.

Next came Danny Guthrie who responded to being dropped against former team Newcastle by launching into a bizzare series of tweets saying that his game didn't suit the Reading style and that he was having a hard time adapting to our style. Then when Guthrie found out he was to be dropped after the Liverpool game, he was apparently banned from the training ground. Again came the denials, but that coupled with a thigh injury for the midfielder, has seen his absent since.

Saddest of all came Alex Pearce's contract dispute that's seriously derailed and perhaps ended his long term Royals career. To be fair to Brian he's not responsible for negotiating contracts and Pearce himself has to take some blame, but again it's another backroom issue that's distracted fans from on the pitch affairs.

While you can perhaps excuse the Pearce issue as something that should be dealt with by Nick Hammond, it's harder to look past the Federici and especially Guthrie rows. To have a player like Guthrie so peeved within three months of signing shows either a serious misjudgment in recruitment or a terrible case of man management and in this case Reading have needed Guthrie far more than Guthrie's needed to impress at the club.

The schedule:

Ultimately you have to play everyone twice but Reading haven't been done any favours with how the fixtures have worked out this season. The stop start nature of the opening prevented the team getting into any early rhythm and the opening six to eight games can hardly be described as kind to the Royals. In what 'six-pointers' we have had they've almost all been away from home, with only Norwich and perhaps Stoke or Fulham seen as home games where we should have taken three points.

One thing we've always relied on under Brian is momentum. In all three of his season's we've started clunkily, only to get on second half rolls that have defined the season. The only hope this season is that we can repeat that trick for a fourth time but by then it could already be too late.

What's gone right?

Pretty much the whole of the last three seasons that Brian McDermott has been our manager. The club and manager have seen their reputation and league position grow steadily throughout his tenure in charge and as he's been so quick to point out, we've come a long way from that depressing Christmas in 2009 when we were getting thumped by Plymouth.

Signings wise he has managed to make some good buys. Gorkss, Leigertwood, Le Fondre and Roberts have all been key to our success, while not forgetting the important contributions that the likes of Andy Griffin and Zurab Khizanishvili made in our survival efforts in those early McDermott days.

Brian has also gotten the best from some previously under-performing players. Shane Long, Jimmy Kebe and Gylfi Sigurdsson all enjoyed their best Reading football under Brian McDermott, while Matt Mills turned from outcast to £5m departure in just 18 months under McDermott.

The academy has also been trusted and grown in importance. With Karcan, Pearce, Robson-Kanu and McCarthy all playing football at the highest level this season and players like Church also making past impacts. We'll hopefully see the fruits of the next crop sooner rather than later as players like Lawson D'Ath, Michael Hector, Jordan Obita and Dominic Samuel all continue to take steps forward. Even if we go down, the future is certainly far from gloomy.

McDermott has also shown in the past that he can adapt to the strife we've faced. He's dealt with rebuilding sides before and while he hasn't had to deal with departures, it can sometimes be just as hard to integrate and develop a side when you have so many new additions.To cope with the loss of Sigurdsson, Long and Mills would test any manager but to keep the club moving forward is a great acheivment.


So, should he stay or should he go?

This is the £40m+ question that must be tormenting Anton Zingarevich right now. If you took away the past three seasons and judged McDermott simply on this season then results haven't been good enough and crucially they are trending downwards, rather than upwards.

Early on it was easier to sympathise given our tough schedule and squad upheaval. However, losing to Wigan, Villa and Southampton coupled with draws to Stoke and Norwich haven't been good enough, even for a team as limited as our own. Bad luck and individual errors have been beyond Brian's control but he's sadly the man who's charged with overcoming those problems and solving them.

McDermott has also failed to deliver in the transfer market and while his budget has been very limited by top flight standards, it's still a sad fact that his big signings have failed to displace players signed by Steve Coppell and even Brendan Rodgers while we were a Championship team.

On the other hand, as our guest writer has put so well this week, perhaps Brian just needed longer to envolve an arguably average Championship team that overachieved, into one that can compete at the top level. That took Coppell 3 years without having to lose his key players, Brian's had that stability for just one summer.

Brian sounded a pretty broken man in his post match press conference and he's looked like a man who's got no idea how to turn it around this season. His subsituttions and team selections have been increasingly baffling and erratic and there's no sign that he even knows his best team, despite working with this squad for five months.

The most relevant question now is whether there's anybody out there that could do a better job in the short, or long term. To me that question is almost entirely dependent upon where we are on January 1st and how much Anton Zingarevich plans to invest in the next five years.

If we lose to Sunderland tomorrow and fail to pick up a win before the Tottenham game then there's little point sacking Brian as relegation will be an almost certainty. Similarly if there's no money to spend, no manager worth having will want the job.

People have been touting Di Matteo and Curbishley but one of those managers has a dismal league record with a newly promoted club and the other hasn't managed a top flight game in over five years. We only need to look at how Wolves came up empty with a search for a new boss last season to show the perils of sacking a manager without a replacement in mind.

This brings us to the next point and asking whether Brian's right in the long term.

If Anton is going to try and run the club on a Madejski era budget then there's nobody better placed to run it and build us back up than Brian McDermott. He's proved his pedigree and he knows the Reading way inside out. If on the other hand there are plans to pump £10m a window into the club then it's a different ballgame and perhaps you can target the next tier of coaches and maybe someone with more Premier League, or top level management abroad experience. I very much think we'll be on tight budgets though and if so Brian deserves the chance to continue a plan that was arguably 'ruined' by getting promotion so soon into his tenure at the club and the Zingarevich era.

Whatever the case I hope that Reading fans stay on Brian's side in the stadium. Venting your spleens is what the Internet is designed for but at the stadium it needs to be everyone pulling together, especially with our fate not yet sealed. To judge Brian solely on 15 games would be very, very harsh and unless Zingarevich is 100% confident that there's A) someone better or B) Brian is going to take the club backwards over a 5-year period, than he should be given at least this year and next to prove himself, to see if taking one step back will lead to two forward long term.

But what do you think? Sack him or back him let us know your thoughts.