Brian McDermott has revealed he was quick to offer a text of commiseration to gutted Watford boss Gianfranco Zola following their play-off heartbreak on Bank Holiday Monday.
The Italian has been picking up the pieces this week following the Hornets’ loss to Crystal Palace at Wembley in the self-styled biggest game in domestic club football in England, said to be worth a cool £120m to the victors.
It was Palace, under a wily play-off operator in Ian Holloway, who prevailed, with a bit of help from an ice-cool finisher in Kevin Phillips in a 1-0 success, with McDermott empathising with Zola after the final whistle.
The Leeds United boss also has previous in the play-off losing stakes, with his Reading side 4-2 beaten by Swansea in the Championship play-off showpiece in the spring of 2011 – before dusting themselves down to rectify matters in the 2011-12 campaign when they claimed the title in impressive fashion.
Ironically, it was McDermott’s United side who scuppered the Hornets’ automatic promotion hopes on a gripping final-day of the 2012-13 regular season, claiming their first away success since early December in a dramatic 2-1 victory at Vicarage Road.
On the day, a win for the hosts would have secured a two top-finish – and a place in the Premier League at Hull City’s expense – with the Tigers only managing a 2-2 draw at home to Cardiff City.
McDermott said: “At the end of the game on Monday, I texted Gianfranco because I know how he feels and what it feels like, having lost that game. It is very, very difficult and I felt for him.
“But it’s great for Ian Holloway and you got to admire what Ian has done – good luck to him. But it is a real tough one to lose.
“We lost that game (in 2011) and came back the following year and won the league, which was the inspiration we needed.
“I said to Gianfranco he will come back stronger for that experience.”
The make-up of the Championship for 2013-14 is now known with United to face the relegated trio of Wigan Athletic – seeking a new manager following the exit of Roberto Martinez – McDermott’s former club Reading, now managed by Nigel Adkins and Queen’s Park Rangers.
Coming up from League One are United’s Yorkshire neighbours Doncaster Rovers, as well as Bournemouth and Yeovil Town, while Watford also take their place in the second tier for another campaign after the final ball was kicked in the Football League calendar on Monday.
First inspection of next year’s Championship would suggest a tight division and McDermott is not one to argue.
While the likes of Zola’s Watford and the East Midlands duo of Nottingham Forest and Leicester City are well fancied along with the relegated trio from the Premiership, McDermott believes the only thing that can be certain about the Championship is it’s uncertainty with the likes of Wolves and Blackburn, who both came down 12 months, failing miserably in 2012-13.
He said: “The division doesn’t change and it is never an easy one to get out of. We know all that along with the fact that every game is difficult.
“You look at it game to game and there’s a lot of ex-Premiership teams in it and you just go about your business and win as many as you can.
“Although in the Championship, it has a really big prize at the end of it.”