Eight months into the Adkins regime and football's inevitable short term memory syndrome kicks in when it comes to recalling McDermott's last few games in charge. There has been a clear change in style or at least intention however the 'pass and possession' ethos is still a work in progress. One thing that even the most dedicated McDermott advocate would be unable to deny is the establishment of Danny Guthrie at the heart of the midfield.
You can argue for days (and some of us still do) as to whether McDermott could have gone on to improve his team but it was hard to understand how he could allow apparent personal differences to deny the team the awareness, drive and above all else confidence of Guthrie's passing. Those of us (quite a few from memory) who turned up last season for the final Premier League tourist trip to Craven Cottage were shown that the impotent sideways passing and lack of attacking ability was not the only option as Guthrie and Jem Karacan looked to push forward. Four goals and three points came in return*.
Guthrie gives the team a focus for the ball when the play stalls. He also gives the team and the crowd the confidence that, as with former Reading midfielders Simon Osborn or Darren Caskey, we have someone who can look to start things again and crucially start those things going forwards. New signing Danny Williams has shown some evidence of a natural instinct to drive the ball forwards and Karacan certainly seemed to gain extra confidence from Guthrie's lead.
The concern that comes from having such a key player is the current lack of an alternative if that player is injured or, as in the recent Millwall game, has an off day. Chris Baird has been brought in to win the ball. Akpan or Leigterwood are not going to be an adequate replacement for Guthrie either. You would think the latter will invite such a chorus of sighs over the terrace that Sir John's hair will be at risk. Watching Saturday's game against QPR it was encouraging to see that we remain competitive with our fellow relegated peers (Wigan thankfully finding life much harder without their talented manager and key players) but there was a sense when Guthrie went down with his injury that there was nothing more that we could add to the occasion. Yes we have injuries but with a determined focus on passing through teams rather than the McDermott priority of good old fashioned wing attack we have a gap in the squad that cannot be ignored for much longer.
We retain two wingers (well just about depending on how you view the role of Hal Robson Kanu and or Jordan Obita) but there is a clear instruction that they are to come inside rather than take on their man for the cross. The Manager has decided that Jobi McAnuff has had his best days and it would be hard to find anyone who disagrees. Garath McCleary has a proven eye for goal and rewatching his strike against QPR you can see that the quality is there. His place seems now to be locked down and the side will benefit from that.
Whilst you would expect some new arrivals come Christmas it is clear that the midfield is a work in progress. We may have to accept that this season as a whole will be as well.
*We could dwell on whether Fulham were showing the beginnings of the disinterest that seems to be dragging them back to where they came from but that is not our problem so who cares.