IF Reading win promotion to the Premier League this season, their board of directors should say a big thank you to Wolves.
It was after the Molineux club sacked Mick McCarthy and requested to talk to Royals boss Brian McDermott that Reading were suddenly transformed from play-off hopefuls to world-beaters.
McDermott turned down Wolves’ advances, signed a three-and-a-half year deal at the Madejski Stadium and his team has been almost unstoppable since.
Before the midweek setback at Peterborough – beaten by the same 3-1 scoreline as Pool had been ten days earlier – Reading had won nine and drawn one of their previous ten, enough to move above West Ham and into the automatic promotion spots ... not bad going considering they were outside the top six in January.
It is all a far cry from the start of the season, when Reading lost five on the bounce and were entrenched in the relegation zone. There were even murmurs about McDermott’s future. The turnaround since has been staggering.
The manager, whose side have the best away record in the Championship, said: “We let Shane Long and Matt Mills go last summer and it was a struggle after all that had gone on.
“All I wanted was to make us competitive and no-one can say we aren’t now. This group has already given us another good season and it is not finished yet. There are nine games to go and we will keep doing our best.”
McDermott has been at Reading for 12 years, initially joining as chief scout. He moved on to become under-19s boss, then reserve team manager before taking the main role from Brendan Rodgers in December 2009.
He has done a sterling job and is now aiming to go one better than last year, when the Royals lost to Swansea in the play-off final.
McDermott reckons the key to Reading’s success this year is experience. Defenders Kaspars Gorkss – a former Blackpool hero – and Matthew Connolly both helped QPR win the Championship title last season. Mikele Leigertwood was also part of Neil Warnock’s promotion squad.
Add to that the experience of skipper Jobi McAnuff, left-back Ian Harte (another who spent time at Bloomfield Road), not to mention the spectacular success of recent Blackburn Rovers signing Jason Roberts, and McDermott appears to have found the perfect recipe for success.
“When you are in this position you need players who have been there and done it,” said the boss, who strengthened further last week by bringing in Hayden Mullins on loan from Portsmouth.
“We’ve got players who have won Championship titles and have had established careers in the Premier League.
“These guys know what they’re doing and they’re going to be very important for us from here on.
“There are no big-time Charlies in our dressing room. Every game is a job to do for us.
“We’ve got a working-class team, who put in a tremendous amount of hard work. Hopefully the rewards will follow.”
What might change the dynamic slightly is that Reading now face the pressure of staying in the automatic places.
It certainly seemed to have an effect at Peterborough, where the Royals tasted defeat for the first time since January 14 at Watford.
But McDermott insists being there to be shot at won’t change a thing. “I don’t think the pressure of being second in the table is any different,” he added. “The players are relishing and enjoying every moment of it. “We didn’t have the best of nights at Peterborough but we’ll certainly bounce back.
“We were 20 points off the pace at one point, so the players deserve great credit for what they have done. We have put ourselves in a great position.”
McDermott was named manager of the month for February, while goalkeeper Adam Federici picked up the player of the month award.
Roberts, with five goals in ten starts since his move from Blackburn, has been ruled out for a month with a hamstring injury. Reading have signed teenage Arsenal striker Benik Afobe on loan but there are plenty of options to replace Roberts alongside Noel Hunt, including Simon Church and Adam Le Fondre.