Redeem thyself

FIRST this weekend, an apology. Back in January, when Reading knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup, I wrote on this blog that I would be amazed if Brian McDermott got the manager’s job full-time.

It wasn’t that I thought he couldn’t do it. I just felt that Reading chairman John Madejski would go for a more experienced name. I also couldn’t resist mentioning the fact that I had covered McDermott’s last match in charge at Woking in 2000, a particularly horrible 3-0 FA Trophy defeat at Southport in which everything seemed to go against him.

The piece brought the following reactions on the fans messageboard Hob Nob Anyone? from two delighted Reading supporters:

The feeling among the Reading fans at the time was that McDermott should get the job on a permanent basis – and as it turned out, they were right. Less than a fortnight after that win at Anfield, McDermott – who had joined the Royals as chief scout shortly after leaving Woking and worked his way up – got the top job on a 12-month rolling contract.

He has certainly made a difference. Reading, who were 21st when McDermott stepped in on a caretaker basis to replace Brendan Rodgers on December 16 last year, finished the season in ninth. Sorry Brian, I should never have doubted you.

The club have, inevitably, had to cut back costs since dropping out of the Premier League in 2008, but at least they no longer look like a side in danger of slipping into League One.

And that is despite a start to this season that saw them pick up two points from their first three games and go out of the Carling Cup on penalties at home to League Two side Northampton in midweek. It’s early days, and Reading have an injury list almost long enough to run on to page two, but they needed the confidence boost of a win at Leicester last night.

Leicester and Reading are two clubs of similar stock, I would say. Nice big shiny (relatively) new stadiums, Premier League infrastructure and facilities, Championship squad, probably set for a mid-table finish despite a slow start.

The difference is that Leicester probably had greater promotion ambitions at the start of the season, having come so close in the play-offs last May. But they went into last night’s game below Reading in the table – and below everyone else too, bar Portsmouth.

As a journalist, visiting the Walkers Stadium is always a joy – not least because they are one of the Championship clubs with TV monitors in the press box. (It’s compulsory in the Premier League, not in the Football League.) When you’re trying to file a match report as soon as the final whistle goes, and when you’re as short-sighted as I am, having a TV monitor is a big help – particularly when the game is being covered live by Sky Sports and thus you get action replays thrown in as well.

Gloriously, the monitors in Leicester’s press box are those 4:3 portable TVs with the great big backs that you can’t buy anywhere any more. (I actually mean it when I say ‘gloriously’, because I’ve still got one at home, and was beginning to wonder if I was the only person left in Britain who has, and was doomed to be classed alongside those eccentrics who still have a black-and-white TV with a tuning dial to change channels.)

I would imagine that Leicester’s new manager Paulo Sousa has a really sleek flat-backed widescreen TV. The man with the Championship’s best bouffant just exudes style. He does, though, currently have the air of a man who has just bought a TV, got it home, tried everything in the instruction manual and still can’t get it to work.

Since taking charge at Leicester in the summer, Sousa has tried attacking football, defensive football, passing football and direct football, he’s tried 4-3-3 and 4-4-2, and he’s not been able to get a league win. Last night’s their defeat was down to a combination of defensive slackness and bad luck.

It was a nervy start by both sides, with the only significant incident in the opening quarter-hour being an injury to Reading’s Turkish midfielder Jem Karacan, left with a lump the size of a golf ball above his right eye after Dany N’Guessan accidentally whacked him in the face.

Reading captain Matt Mills should have headed in Brian Howard’s free kick moments later, before a blunder by Leicester’s Portuguese centre-back Moreno started the move which led to Gylfi Sigurdsson clipping in the opening goal for the visitors.

I’ve liked Sigurdsson, a young Iceland international, every since I first saw him play live in a match at Barnsley at the start of last season. He’s creative, uses the ball well and makes things happen.

It seems as if Fulham, among other clubs, like him as well, and there’s a chance he might leave Reading before the transfer window closes in Tuesday. “It’s going to be a long weekend,” said McDermott when asked about his chances of holding on to the 20-year-old.

Leicester didn’t have DJ Campbell to call on up front – he is wanted by Blackpool, and Sousa left him out of the squad, claiming the striker’s head wasn’t right. In his absence, their chances of getting back into the game rested on Lloyd Dyer, who played on the right wing and gave Reading’s stand-in left back Shaun Cummings the runaround all evening.

When the home side did equalise seven minutes after the break, it was no surprise that Dyer was the scorer, cutting in from the right on his left foot and driving a 25-yard shot past Adam Federici.

After that, it really looked as if Leicester would win. Federici made a brilliant save to deny Dyer in the last 10 minutes, and there would be more chances after that. But then Mills intervened.

Reading’s captain has been deadly in both penalty areas this week. He struck twice at the right end against Northampton in the Carling Cup on Tuesday, only to score an own goal deep in stoppage time at the end of extra-time to take the game to a penalty shoot-out which his side lost.

Last night, he redeemed himself twice over for that late own goal. First, he headed in a corner to give Reading the lead with four minutes to go. Then he made an astonishing goal-line clearance at the other end when Steve Howard looked certain to equalise.

There was still more drama. Leicester substitute Andy King had an effort blocked on the line, then saw a equaliser disallowed in stoppage time.

“We deserved better than that,” Sousa said after the 2-1 defeat. “We need to be more clinical, but every time we make an individual mistake, we concede a goal.”

Anyone who has ever tried to fix their television by giving it a good whack will know how you feel, Paulo.

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