Ex-Reading defender Adi Williams says Brian McDermott and assistant Nigel Gibbs will get it right at United. Leon Wobschall reports.
BRIAN McDERMOTT is no stranger to tough times in his managerial career – and the current situation he finds himself in at Leeds United is seriously right up there.
His calm and composed demeanour has taken the heftiest of knocks not once, but twice in successive shattering episodes, with United’s Spotland sickener followed by a horrendous Hillsborough humiliation played out in front of not just 2,000 stunned travelling supporters, but millions watching in their own homes and across the pubs and clubs of England.
Presiding over United’s heaviest defeat since 1959 will represent a big cross to bear for a manager who, while being raised far away from Yorkshire in the deep south, is proud to be the flag-bearer of one of the game’s biggest of deals in Leeds United, a club who have seeped into his soul in the space of just nine months.
The other club who were firmly in his heart being Reading and while he received acclaim for much of his tenure in Berkshire, at a go-ahead organisation where he spent 13 rewarding years of his professional life, he also sampled some hard times which he may care to draw upon now.
They will stand him in good stead during the first crisis of his United reign in a season which is danger of unravelling fast, having gone in the words of McDermott from “north to south” on the back of an awful six-game winless streak.
McDermott may have pocketed five manager of the month gongs and the Championship manager of the year award at Reading in 2012-13 after lifting the title, but neither was it all sunshine and roses in Berkshire.
Like in the top-flight in 2012-13 when his Royals side went seven games without a win in the autumn and then tumbled to seven successive league defeats from November 24, 2012 to December 22, 2012.
On both occasions, McDermott and his team closed ranks and manufactured a response. On the latter occasion through a run of just one defeat in seven league matches from Boxing Day to the start of February, culminating in him being named as the top-flight manager-of-the-month for January.
Just over a month and a half later, he was sacked, with Reading in the midst of another damaging winless run, with the slings and arrows of footballing fortune something McDermott is well versed in.
Ex-Reading captain and media pundit Adi Williams witnessed McDermott’s good times and bad in charge of the Royals and is confident he will ride out the storm and turn things around at Leeds.
After looking his players squarely in the eyes during a crisis meeting at Thorp Arch on Sunday, it’s now all about delivering a response, something his Reading side also memorably managed after a low point that McDermott recalled after last week’s cup defeat at Rochdale.
That came way out west at Plymouth Argyle on December 28, 2009 when the struggling Royals were battered 4-1 by a side also down among the Championship dead men.
Two games later, Reading were celebrating a famous FA Cup third-round replay success at Anfield and while a win for his current club against divisional leaders Leicester this Saturday won’t be heralded quite as emphatically, it will apply balm to open wounds.
Williams said: “Brian said Saturday was a public humiliation and it will have hurt him and Nigel Gibbs.
“As a manager, Brian doesn’t get too high if he wins a game or too low when he loses one. But the 6-0 will really hurt.
“As a performance, it was unacceptable and some of the defending I saw on the TV was absolutely woeful and Nigel and Brian will get stuck into that.
“But he will take it all on the chin and turn it around.
“Football supporters, after seeing a performance like that, will want the players in from ten o’clock in the morning until ten at night as punishment. But it doesn’t work like that and Brian will have a good look at it with Nigel. At the end of the day, you can’t get too low and have to move on. As Brian always used to say, it will be about the next game now.
“Brian can get angry if he has to and every manager has to have that in his locker. But what Brian always did at Reading was give responsibility to his players – on the training pitch, football pitch, hotel room, on a pre-season tour. He always treated men as men and gave them responsibility.
“In the modern game, you have got to be an unbelievable man-manager and know players individually and have relationships with them. Brian did that brilliantly at Reading.
“He will be demanding a response now. Sometimes as a footballer, it’s horrible to sit down and watch a game of football when you know you have had a stinker. It makes you cringe. But every now and again, it’s a case of saying: ‘Come on boys, that is not on.’
“He will have spoken about Leeds fans paying their hard-earned money to watch that and it not being acceptable. He’ll be saying: ‘Let’s put it to bed and here we go again.’
Tactically, United disintegrated in the winter sun on Saturday, with their three-man defence dissected clinically by the Owls, with many fans speculating the death knell for 3-5-2.
Williams admits the sight of McDermott employing a three-man defence was a rarity in his days at Reading and along with a case of Leeds going back to basics, it could well be a case of McDermott now going back to what he has known for most of his managerial career.
He added: “It’s a surprise to see him play with three central defenders as he was always a 4-4-2 man at Reading.
“I can hardly ever remember him playing ‘a three’ at Reading, maybe once or twice at most.
“I can’t think of many games, unless it’s late on to chase something, where he went to three central defenders.”