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First Time Around: The Best & Worst Of Brian McDermott At Reading FC

With the dust settling of Brian McDermott's re-appointment as Reading FC manager, Marc details the stories behind his three best and three worst games in his first spell at the club.

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The Best

Cardiff City 0-3 Reading - Play-Off Semi-Final - May 17th 2011

In no particular order we start with the game that firmly cemented Brian McDermott as a modern great for the Royals. Some may call that hyperbole but at the time this match not only proved that Reading had re-found their promotion mojo, but that there was serious belief that we could have a second shot at the Premier League for real. Sealing our first trip to the New Wembley, Shane Long's opener was not just a case of lucky deflections, but a hard-working, chase-every-ball attitude that was combined with the serious guile of a perfectly-weighted lob finish.

As part of the travelling masses that day, Reading fans could hardly believe their luck when Long's penalty made it 2-0 before half-time. By the time Jobi McAnuff wriggled through half of the Brecon Beacons to smash home a third it was a night of pure ecstasy for Reading, with McDermott getting the biggest reception of the entire squad. That was because there was no expectation and the manager had taken a nowhere squad to Wembley, a squad on the night consisting of a former Irish international brought back up from League One, a low-rated right-back thrust into right-midfield, a past-it Icelandic defensive midfielder, and a no-hoper striker signed from Hereford.

West Ham 2-4 Reading - Championship - 31st March 2012

After bouncing back from a defeat at Wembley (more on that later) the Royals had a stonking final two-thirds to the 2011/12 season. Once again, promotion was on the cards but this time around it was serious. A pure fire-in-the-belly approach, spurred on by bigger players surrounding them, firmly in the Zingarevich honeymoon period, and with a gameplan that came through the biggest of tests. On this Spring day at Upton Park, all of that came together in a match between two very contrasting clubs.

While the Hammers fans chanted against their coach Sam Allardyce despite an early lead, Reading remained in the game but a sense of worry that it was all one game too far was certainly eminent. McDermott kept his faith, though, and when Kaspars Gorkss headed Reading level on 44 minutes there were wild celebrations. When Noel Hunt fired the visitors ahead on 45 minutes there was sheer pandemonium. To this day, no manager has brought that feeling to Reading since Brian did and not many had before him. The game finished 4-2 and the rest was history, McDermott eventually leading the Royals to the league title, but his attitude remained down to earth. His first words after the win against West Ham? "It's three points. That's all it is."

Liverpool 1-2 Reading (AET) - FA Cup Third Round - 13th January 2010

A lot of contenders arise for the third spot on this list. Honourable mentions go to routs over Sheffield Wednesday (5-0) and Peterborough (6-0) in early 2010, the 3-1 win over Southampton that effectively sealed the Championship title in 2012, the Premier League comebacks against Chelsea (2-2) and West Brom (3-2), and even the away FA Cup wins over Everton (1-0) and West Brom (3-2, again). However, to fully appreciate Reading's first and only victory at Anfield, a lot of context needs to be understood.

After a strong 1-1 home draw, Reading took a team consisting of unproven youngsters Jem Karacan, Matt Mills, Ryan Bertrand, Simon Church and Gylfi Sigurdsson to take on a Liverpool side that started Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Yossi Benayoun and Dirk Kuyt. Furthermore, this was a Reading side that stank out the house during the first half of the season under Brendan Rodgers, and had now installed a backroom nobody to steer the team while a bigger name came along. That name was not needed, as McDermott set up a tough to beat outfit that undeservedly fell behind in the first period, almost pulling level with a classy McAnuff run and miss before Gylfi's ice cool penalty in the 94th minute. Shane Long's header made the history, kicking off the McDermott era in what would become typical fashion.

The Worst

Swansea City 4-2 Reading - Play-Off Final - 30th May 2011

Apologies in advance for bringing this up, but here Brian McDermott got a lesson in Reading's awful play-off record alongside something of a masterclass from ex-Royals boss Brendan Rodgers. It is perhaps harsh to label this as McDermott's failings, because many factors mitigate that; individually, the previously excellent Zurab Kizinashvili, Andy Griffin and Ian Harte gave their worst performances in a Hoops shirt, and of course Reading were a width of a post and a Gary Monk from levelling the game at 3-3. Indeed, Reading's future successes can certainly be put down to this as something of a learning curve.

However, a Reading with Shane Long almost certainly would have made a better shot at the Premier League than the one without it that arrived and quickly departed a year later. Therefore, this was obviously a must-win game. In the first-half the Royals were desperately under-prepared for a counter-attacking romp that put a clinical Swansea three goals to the good. They should have seen this coming, two defeats to the Swans during the regular season was ample preparation and despite the hope of a comeback, McDermott had simply set his side up to be picked off by the Swans.

Reading 0-3 Wigan Athletic - Premier League - 23rd February 2013

The game that relegated Reading. Not literally, that was the dire 0-0 draw with QPR after Brian had been hastily thrown overboard, but the excellent work done in January to lift the Royals out of the drop zone was undone when our chief rivals trounced us in our own backyard. The performance was quite awful, even in hindsight. As was typical for Reading in the Premier League, too much respect was given to their opponents who dominated possession and not enough subtlety was generated in attack. What had worked in the latter weeks of winning the Championship had failed in the top-tier, this being the real case of one game too far in our survival stakes.

Much of this can be put to McDermott. A decent if unspectacular set of transfers had improved the team but he rigidly stuck with favourites Harte, Leigertwood, McAnuff and Hunt, many of whom were considered to be in their twilight years as far back as 2011. As mentioned the one dimensional gameplan were stubbornly stuck to and his expert ability to man manage his players had faded to dust due to a combination of both factors and the addition of bigger egos such as Danny Guthrie and Pavel Pogrebnyak.

Reading 5-7 Arsenal - League Cup Fourth Round - 30th October 2012

Last and most certainly least is the most embarrassing moment of being a Reading supporter in recent memory. No one really cares if we lose 6-0 to Peterborough in the League Cup (although we still do, Nigel), and few even remember McDermott's weak losses to the likes of Plymouth and Barnsley. Everyone, however big a team they supported, knew about Reading blowing a four-goal lead at home to Arsenal.

How much blame can McDermott take for this crushing defeat? Several key moments point to yes. 4-0 up in injury time of the first-half is a pretty simple position, and yet a wide open Reading lost possession while pressing ridiculously high in the 46th minute, gifting Theo Walcott a run and goal. Pressure was too much to prevent another Arsenal goal and even when Laurent Koscielny scored in the 89th minute it should have been too late. Nevertheless, McDermott, in his wisdom, brought on Simon Church for Jason Roberts in stoppage time to allow just enough time to be added on for Walcott to smash a controversially late goal. Without Roberts, Reading were then woefully under-prepared for extra time and it was simply a matter of course for Arsenal to tuck away three more in a twelve goal massacre.

What are your best and worst memories of Brian McDermott's first spell with Reading? Comment below.