The original article was penned in March 2013.
The Team Just Got Worse
Funnily enough the day before Brian was sacked I'd started writing an article about how Brian's teams were capable of playing decent attacking football if they had the right personnel. The shocking thing for me was how far the quality in our strongest eleven has dropped over his tenure despite almost unprecedented success.
Consider this lineup that thrashed Preston 4-1 on the final day of Brian's first season in 2010.
2010: Federici, Mills, Griffin (Karacan), Bertrand, Pearce , McAnuff, Tabb, Howard (Gunnarsson), Kebe, igurdsson , Long (Church)
Is it just me or do you not think that the team above is superior to the one that lined up against Villa this past weekend?
2013: Taylor, Harte, Mariappa, Pearce, Kelly, McAnuff, Leigertwood (Guthrie), Akpan (McCleary), Robson-Kanu, Le Fondre, Hunt (Blackman)
Pearce and Tabb are much of a muchness, Brian Howard is maybe a wash with Leigertwood but otherwise I almost universally prefer the 2010 team. Kebe and McAnuff were younger, you had superstars (for our level) in Long, Bertrand and Sigurdsson while Mills was as capable as Mariappa and Griffin was as good as Kelly has been in his short spell.
My question is how on earth have we ended up with a weaker starting XI despite two cup quarter-finals, a play-off final and promotion to the Premier League?!
A lot of the fault has to go on the owners but then that's not exactly fair on Sir John, who openly said he had no more money to put in and didn't want to gamble with our financial future.
With Anton Zingarevich it's another story and probably a debate that will rage long beyond our fate this season. Needless to say his investment has hardly been superior to anything we saw under Sir John.
The likes of Long, Bertrand and Sigurdsson were just never replaced, while we've not seen the raw quality of a Jimmy Kebe style player signed either. Prospects like Church have lingered too long while how Bryn was still in our 25-man squad is beyond me, which leads me on to point two.
Too Much Faith In the Old Guard
Mikele Leigertwood, Jason Roberts, Kaspars Gorkss... what do they all have in common? Answer, they were discarded by Premier League teams last season.
The reasons are varied but whatever way you look at it, QPR (finished 17th) and Blackburn (relegated) all thought they could do without them. Now, I appreciate that sometimes players just don't gel at a club and I was probably one of many who wondered why Neil Warnock got rid of Gorkss, but his decision was vindicated by the fact that he's now been bombed out on loan to Wolves halfway into the season.
Leigertwood has been relegated twice, and then sold after promotion by QPR, while Jason Roberts was let go by a Blackburn team who were heading for the drop. I can't possibly praise the three of them highly enough for the role they played in our promotion and as squad players they all could have had a role in our 25-man squad, but not as starters every week. You could probably throw Jobi McAnuff, Jay Tabb and Noel Hunt into this mix as players who've never been in the Premier League and you have to say that we now know why.
These are all top, honest, hard working pros who deserved a chance to make a claim and perhaps earn themselves a squad role but not at the sake of our Premier League survival and certainly should not have been earning the number of starts in the first team that they have this season.
What's made this worse has been the sacrificing of players who had Premier League quality, or at least potential for most of the season. McAnuff and Leigertwood were undroppable while Gorkss was kept in ahead of Pearce despite looking woefully out of his depth.
Roberts included in the 25-man squad despite a chronic hip injury and didn't score a league goal all season. I'm sorry but when the man who got you up from the Championship by looking a class above his three team-mates is ineffective... what hope does it give you for the other three? Simon Church was duly dispatched, but that left Noel Hunt and Adam Le Fondre, strengthened only by an equally untested Pavel Pogrebnyak.
Speaking of the Pog....
Quality Of Signings
While I've lamented how our squad has failed to improve, Brian hasn't exactly bought brilliantly in his time here.
Brian's new signings this season had combined to start just 45% of the available games this season, hardly a ringing endorsement of his recruitment. Summer signings Nicky Shorey, Danny Guthrie, Pogrebnyak, Garath McCleary, Chris Gunter, Daniel Carrico and Nick Blackman have ALL been dropped repeatedly and it's only really Adrian Mariappa that's really lived up to his transfer fee and wages this season. Whether the rest COULD and SHOULD be playing is another question but if Brian doesn't have the confidence to play them, well then he's either bought badly or is a bad judge of character/talent and either way it's played a part in his downfall.
How any manager could go into a Premier League season with Jay Tabb as your fourth best midfielder is poor, especially when two of the three above him are the aforementioned PL reject Leigertwood and an untested Jem Karacan. That's just poor squad construction plain and simple.
Throw into the mix busts like Mathieu Manset, Jo Mills, Karl Sheppard, Brett & Marcus Williams and it's not a ringing endorsement for the man.
However McDermott did sign players like Andy Griffin, Leigertwood, Le Fondre and Hope Akpan so he's certainly not been total bust on the transfer front.
Again, this is an area where you have to ask what was available to him and who he may have passed on. If he was given no money then I guess you get what you (don't) pay for but if he did have funds to spend or had more choice... well he's picked badly. When a man who cost the club over £2 million is out of the squad within six months it doesn't look good.
A Victim Of His Own Success?
When Brian was handed the reigns the club were in a bad position, having been left in a state of chaos after the failure of Brendan Rodgers'
three year six month plan.'
To survive that season would have been seen as a success but the spectacular run that saw us smash teams like Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and Peterborough and then get to within 45 minutes of an FA Cup semi-final raised expectations quickly. The departure of Sigurdsson helped lower them the following summer but an astonishing run to Wembley raised hopes once again - suddenly Brian had nothing but success on his CV.
A month into the 2011/12 season and suddenly the mood had changed. The departure of Shane Long & Matt Mills left us short of quality in key areas and the team sat second from bottom of the Championship. Brian once again worked wonders, turning those £11m worth of sales into a solid team by spending just 10% of it, on the likes of Gorkss, J Mills and Le Fondre. The return to form of key players like Leigertwood and McAnuff helped but it was only the arrival of TSI and Jason Roberts that suddenly turned us into Championship contenders.
Lets be honest though... who looked at our team during that run and thought... yeah that's a Championship winning team? While our ability to get results was fantastic, it was a run that had more than a few strokes of good fortune. The backs to the wall win at Brighton helped by a Federici penalty save, the win over Forest helped by a block on the line by Pearce, West Ham choking just before half-time at Upton Park, Roberts fluking a rebound from a dire penalty against Bristol City or even likes of Coventry being denied by a superb goalkeeping display by Federici. Now you can of course argue how much those were down to 'luck' but we weren't dominating sides and you can't tell me we'd win those games 9/10 as true juggernaughts such as our 2005/06 squad or Newcastle back in 2009/10 would.
The squad that went up was a plucky, savy side but one that was wholly unprepared for the top level. This wasn't a young untested squad in their prime that just needed a chance like in 2005/06.
However, when you're in the Premier League it's easy to forget such things and suddenly a manager is expected to paint a masterpiece on MS Paint, or build a solid hurricane proof house out of sticks and prit stick.
Brian never had a chance to build a Premier League ready side, he just had a good Championship side that was capable of going on a good run. West Ham showed that you can have quality but struggle for consistency because of inexperience and sadly Reading have been found out as having just the opposite, solid consistency but a lack of quality beyond that.
Had Brian been given £8m in the Championship could he have bought a few more players whom given 12 months would have been PL ready? Debatable but I'd fancy us to survive with a team that contained a full year of Championship tested Blackman, Akpan, Cummings etc more than this one.
Premier League Inexperience & Stubborness
Brian never really seemed comfortable with the media spotlight this season and just didn't seem to know how to handle tricky situations on and off the field.
Off the pitch he never got to grips with the increased egos and demands of players once they're in the Premier League. His stalwart goalkeeper Federici kicked off and broke ranks over why he was dropped/injured, then came repeated bust-ups with Danny Guthrie plus a reported falling out with Jason Roberts after the Southampton game. Add to the mix the problems with selecting Alex Pearce and you have a backroom nightmare. I'm still not sure who told or advised Brian to drop him, I've been told by sources close to the club that it came from Nick Hammond but if that's the case then why is Brian letting others make key selection policies?
The tactics and team selections were also rooted in the past. Time and time again Brian went to players that had done well in a lower league rather then test the potential or place faith in those who had extra quality. To try and play 4-4-2 in the Premier League when your strikers are average and your central midfield paper-thin was suicide.
There was never a midgame change of plan either. Reading have dropped 24 points from winning positions but how often did you see the team go 4-5-1 and try to hold the lead? There was never any creativity or even attempt to change things, the best we ever got was putting Jobi McAnuff into the middle and throwing on another striker.
When he did change things, shock horror things picked up. Of our 23 points this season, 14 have come in games where we started 4-5-1 and yet once again we've gone back to the well bested 4-4-2.
Reading have just never seemed to have a different way of playing and while I think that's in part down to the quality of player available, the lack of an attempt to change was disappointing.
It's not exactly been a great year for us on the luck front. Whether it's our previously solid 'keeper dropping two clangers in the first two games, his replacement diving into a post or a handball goal being allowed to stand, we've just not had it our way for most of the year.
I could go on and on with these examples. Torres scoring an offside goal, a marginal offside call going against us last Saturday, clear penalties at Stoke and Everton not being given or Barry's questionable climb on Shorey, the rub of the green hasn't really gone our way time after time.
Now I know things have gone our way from time to time but you only need one or two of the above bad bits of luck to go our way and it's a different season entirely.
Brian also had awful luck with injuries this season. Federici, McCarthy, Karacan, Mariappa, Kebe, Shorey, Guthrie, Roberts, Pogrebnyak, Robson-Kanu and Hunt have all been injured at points this season. When your squad is as devoid of quality as ours, those injuries are utterly devastating.
Brian's downfall has plenty to do with his own mistakes but more than a small part of it is down to bad luck or circumstances beyond his control. The lack of funds given to build a team capable of competing in the Premier League is obvious but Brian didn't help himself by buying poorly when given limited funds.
LIkewise, he had players at his disposal to change certain games but chose to ignore them, or gave too many chances to players that had shown themselves just not up to the top division. When you add in bad luck on the pitch and in the treatment room plus backroom bust-ups and there was only one way our season was going to go.
As mentioned elsewhere, Brian has become the fifth manager of the last six to guide his team up automatically only to get sacked before the end of the following season. The expectations and demands of the Premier League just seem to go up and up and few managers who ply their trade in the Championship seem capable of rising to match those demands.
I think that given time and money, Brian would have risen to meet those challenges but his first attempt was admittedly poor and Anton Zingarevich obviously didn't feel that he'd get any better.
With the above it's easy to see why the decision was made but I guess it comes down to whether you think given time and money that Brian could change and adapt, or if you think he's a limited manager who's mistakes have just outweighed his successes.
Whatever the case I can only thank Brian for what he's done and hope that he goes on to lead another team in the Premier League.