It'd be folly to suggest that Brian McDermott has got more out of this group of players than Steve Clarke did, and certainly results this season reflect that. But the difficulty for Brian has been clear - a group of largely disinterested players floating towards mid-table with no real incentive to deliver on a week-in, week-out basis. Let's not forget that Clarke's second half of the 2014/15 season was just as miserable, with the Royals picking up just one win in their last ten games, a shock 3-0 victory away at Derby County. Put simply, at least some of the responsibility for the current malaise at the club has to fall on the players - the blame can't just fall at McDermott's door.
And perhaps we were just starting to see player changes to reflect that. Towards the end of the season, we began to observe a move back towards the "identity" that Brian wants to instill in the club again, with the likes of Josh Barrett, Tennai Watson and Rob Dickie getting involvement in the first-team setup. Meanwhile, the disappointing loan signings like Lucas Piazon and Matej Vydra were left out - only permanently contracted players got a look-in during our last two games. There's no doubting that McDermott has a tough task in picking up a side that's going to lose at least ten members of the first-team squad but in giving youth a chance, he's shown a pathway for the youngsters and - hopefully - led us towards a group of players who will give everything for the badge. And as he showed last time around, it's commitment that McDermott can get the best out of.
In many senses, the big negative stems is the same as the first positive. Reading's form in the second half of the campaign was abysmal, and the product on the pitch was at times awful to watch. As previously mentioned, it's difficult to motivate a squad with nothing to play for but the simple fact of the matter is that our form hasn't improved since Clarke left - a simple reading of the league tables would tell you that we've dropped from 9th to 17th in the six months under McDermott. Granted, we were in a tail-spin when he was appointed but the new manager seems to have made little difference.
It's easy to manage from your seat but McDermott's persistence with a diamond formation seemed nonsensical, and some of his tactical decisions like playing Garath McCleary at right-back were puzzling to say the least. One clean sheet in the last sixteen games (against relegated, ten-man Bolton) shows a side that most certainly hadn't improved defensively - in fact, the amount of errors leading to chances and goals was at times embarrassing to watch. And in attack, it was as toothless as ever - one four-goal outburst at relegated Charlton aside. The atmosphere at the ground towards the end of the campaign were a mixture of apathy, anger and despair, whilst a quick monitor of social media will show you the ever-polarized opinions on Brian's return. Things certainly won't get any easier for him next year, with a smaller squad and the weight of expectation on his shoulders. Do the signs so far point to things getting worse before they get better?
So how do you feel about McDermott's five months in charge? Let us know below - 5 is highest, 1 is lowest. And leave any thoughts about how you're feeling under Brian.
1st February 2016 - 2.55 out of 5
1st March 2016 - 3.81 out of 5