Jonny Fordham's end-of-term Reading FC reportBy Jonny Fordham
June 06, 2011
So that’s that then – Reading fans will be feeling deflated and subdued after a hat-trick of play-off final devastations in 16 years.
It’s hard to stay upbeat following Bank Holiday Monday’s 4-2 defeat to Swansea City at Wembley, but if you put the season into perspective, for more than six months Royals were stumbling along and heading for a mid-table spot.
Manager Brian McDermott, his staff and players can take tremendous courage and pride from their astonishing turn of fate in the last three months of the campaign.
Personally, I will gladly feast on my own words this summer after writing McDermott’s men off after the 2-1 defeat at Norwich City on February 12.
Royals were sitting in 12th place and were 10 points off the top-six. Only a mad man would have believed that the unthinkable would happen back then.
It’s mixed feelings, though, as that stat alone won’t conceal the impending nightmares and vivid replays of the first-half horror-show at Wembley.
And in all honesty, neither will Royals’ heroic second-half comeback that pulled them back to 3-2 before Jem Karacan rattled the post with a long-range drive.
Football is a cruel game, but come June 17 when the fixtures are announced, everyone will be speculating over the 2011/12 campaign as the previous season is laid to rest.
You will struggle to find a manager who exceeded expectations as much as Brian McDermott has in his full season at a Football League club.
Defeat at home to Scunthorpe United on the opening day of the Championship was not in the script after a successful pre-season tour of Slovenia and Croatia.
Then the sale of Gylfi Sigurdsson to Hoffenheim for a record £7million just six games into the campaign threatened to throw a huge spanner into the works.
It took a while for McDermott to ride the storm and after a shocking away day at Middlesbrough where they lost 3-1 (despite Sigurdsson’s millions paying for the squad’s flight to Teesside), the turning point came away to Burnley.
Royals hammered the Clarets 4-0 at Turf Moor in their first victory on the road and McDermott’s men followed that up with another four-star display as they came from behind to crush Doncaster Rovers 4-3 at home.
The 3-1 humiliation by QPR at Loftus Road a week later cast doubts over the potential of the side, but Shane Long thundered home his first goal from open play.
A potential FA Cup banana skin was avoided at Stevenage in January after Royals had knocked out West Brom at home in the third round.
And as expected, everyone wrote off Reading’s chances of beating Everton at Goodison Park. McDermott never doubted his side’s qualities and Matt Mills hit the winner to set-up a meeting with mega-rich Manchester City at Eastlands.
Cue more hype of how Roberto Mancini’s men this time would smash Royals to the kerb, before an eventual 1-0 defeat to the eventual winners.
That result was sandwiched between Reading’s eight-game winning streak in the league that saw Royals just three points off second spot at one point.
Reading gatecrashed the play-offs and were again written off after their 0-0 semi-final first leg draw with Cardiff City.
McDermott inspired his team to a 3-0 win at the Cardiff City Stadium, but they fell apart as they lost 4-2 in the final against Swansea City.
After just 16 months in charge McDermott has shown he is of the same ilk of previous promotion-winning Royals bosses Steve Coppell and Alan Pardew.
Surely it is now just a matter of time before the former chief scout achieves that at the Mad Stad.
Sadly for Reading, there is only one Shane Long and it looks like he is on his way this summer.
The Republic of Ireland striker scored 25 goals this season and has been Royals’ talisman up front.
The 24-year-old also become the first Reading striker to hit 20 league goals in a season since Martin Butler and Jamie Cureton in 2000/01.
He has filled the void left by Kevin Doyle in 2009, but who will step up to the mark when he is inevitably sold before the start of the 2011/12 campaign?
Long could have his pick of clubs and Royals will want to bank at least £4million and spark a bidding war for his services.
It is with mixed feelings that Zurab Khizanishvili gets this unenviable accolade.
The classy Georgian centre-back had been a rock for Royals all season, but his shocking display at Wembley left little to be desired and you would have expected much more from the experienced defender.
Although he has been offered a deal at the club, it looks like he will be playing abroad next season.
Solid as a rock in midfield, Mikele Leigertwood has now been added to McDermott’s armoury following his permanent switch from QPR.
The 29-year-old steadied the ship and quickly formed an understanding with Jem Karacan at the heart of Reading’s side.
The experienced Championship campaigner went on a 19-game unbeaten league run as he quickly settled into life in Berkshire.
It is expected that Leigertwood will again be a key cog in the Royals midfield next season as he looks to win promotion to the Premier League for the second time in his career.
You can argue that it is hard to call any free transfer a bad signing, but Marcus Williams has struggled to adapt to life down south since joining from Scunthorpe United a year ago.
Having played just five times for Royals, Williams can take solace from Shaun Cummings’ nightmare first season at the club and his transformation this year.
There is no doubt that left-back Williams can cut it at this level, but he faces a tough task of breaking back into McDermott’s first-team plans.
Best game: Cardiff City 0 Reading 3
It was the game Reading were never going to win, like so many this season – said all the pundits outside of Berkshire.
Shane Long showed his class as he looped the ball into the back of the net to set Royals on their way to Wembley in South Wales, before doubling proceedings from the spot.
Shaun Cummings, out of position on the right wing due to the prolonged absence of Jimmy Kebe, epitomised the ethos of Reading with his performance.
And Jobi McAnuff secured the win with a mazy run and emphatic finish minutes from time in the game that sealed manager Dave Jones’ fate in charge of the Bluebirds.
Gylfi Sigurdsson watched on from the stands as Royals went from rock-bottom just 16 months prior to one game away from the Premier League.
Worst game: Reading 2 Swansea City 4
“Wembley isn’t a place to lose,” said Brian McDermott after this result, and he was dead right.
A first-half 3-0 drubbing did Reading no favours as they had to come from behind if they were going to stage one of the most heroic comebacks in history.
At 3-2, after Noel Hunt and Matt Mills netted, the game was finely balanced and it could have easily swung in Reading’s favour.
Midfielder Jem Karacan’s 25-yard effort rebounded off the post, and maybe this was in some way their ‘Stuart Lovell’ moment 16 years on.
Royals were adamant if that had gone in, they would have gone on to win the game and Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers even admitted that was a strong possibility.
More than 40,000 fans made the pilgrimage to Wembley, however, for many of them, it will seem like the hurt of this result right now will stay with them for the rest of their lives.