Really, Anton Zingarevich, what was the point? As Reading head to Old Trafford to face Manchester United, managerless and like lambs to the slaughter, where was the logic in sacking Brain McDermott on Monday?
In one of the more bizarre decisions a foreign owner has made in recent years, Zingarevich has given McDermott the boot just 32 days after he was named Manager of the Month, leaving fans and pundits astounded. OK, consecutive home defeats to fellow relegation rivals Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa were bad results that leave Reading with an uphill but not entirely forlorn chance of staying in the Premier League, but honestly, what chance did McDermott have of doing any better?
He overperformed to an incredible degree to get Reading back in the top flight in the first place, as the Royals had no right whatsoever in wining last season’s Championship given the budget enjoyed by many of their rivals, and as McDermott so rightly pointed out last week, his entire squad cost less to assemble than Aston Villa’s £7 million striker Christian Benteke.
As if to highlight that further, Benteke scored at the Madejski last week and it just shows that with Wigan an established Premier League side and Queens Park Rangers splashing cash they probably haven’t got, Reading are doing well to be in touch with the strugglers at the bottom, never mind the clubs at the top. The sacking therefore makes no sense.
For me, a manager should only get the sack if his squad is underpeforming, and that was not the case with Reading – they are doing as well as they can. They have to play Jason Roberts up front, for God’s sake.
And who is realistically going to come in at this point, with nine games left (eight by the time they have faced United) and keep the team up? Whoever it is won’t know the players as well as McDermott, and for me Reading have signed their own death warrant.
It was always going to be difficult anyway, but as they go to Old Trafford on Saturday they have made it even harder for themselves. And make no mistake, Sir Alex Ferguson will be showing no mercy and I see nothing but a big home win.
That is priced up at 7/50, with the draw at 29/4 and Reading at 13/1, but it is just about getting value on the inevitable here.
Manchester United have endured a trying ten days or so of their own, with the painful Champions League defeat to Real Madrid followed by a woeful second half performance in the FA Cup quarter-final draw with Chelsea, when a 2-0 lead was surrendered.
But with a week of rest and to get the joint-disappointment out of their system, United will be at full throttle and they will put Reading to the sword. As such, the even money that Ferguson’s side win by at least three goals is the bet.
United’s record against the teams in the bottom half of the Premier League is predictably excellent. The Red Devils have won 14 of the 15 games against such opposition, scoring 44 goals and looking their usual ruthless best. At home the record is even better, winning all eight of their games, scoring 25 goals.
Just as predictably, Reading have struggled against the better sides, losing nine of their 15 games against teams in the top half, conceding 35 goals. Six of their seven away fixtures have also ended in defeat.
And with morale low and United keen to cement their lead at the top, I see a big win similar to their 4-0 victory over Norwich in their last league outing. That was the fourth time this season Ferguson’s side have won by three or more, and with Reading on the end of four such losses, the evens it happens again looks like the play to me.