McDermott tears hair out at plans to mess with Cup

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The Independent Football

As the meddlers at the FA ponder methods in which to spice up their flagship competition, the FA Cup, they should perhaps take a trip to Berkshire to take a sounding from Brian McDermott. Yet they will receive a sharp response from the Reading manager: "Leave it well alone."

McDermott is a self-confessed Cup-aholic. As a child, he was weened on watching many a Wembley final on black-and-white television; as a young player with Arsenal, he was fascinated by their many Cup epics in the late Seventies and early Eighties.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," is McDermott's mantra. And if he had any hair to tear out, the suggested scrapping of replays would have him tugging at his scalp for weeks. "I just can't get my head round that one," the follically challenged Heston Blumenthal lookalike said.

"Stopping replays? Just look at what Orient did against Arsenal and Crawley Town on their great run. Replays have made such a difference to them financially. Why in the world would you want to take those experiences away from them? It's just incredible."

McDermott declares an interest. It was the 2-1 third-round replay win over Liverpool at Anfield last season, after a 1-1 draw at the Madejski Stadium, that played a part in his elevation from caretaker manager to main man.

"But for that, I might not be sat here now," McDermott admitted. "We could have gone out on penalties at the Madejski and then missed out on Anfield. Why would you want to take that away from a club or the players and fans?"

A replay is maybe the most that Reading can hope for this afternoon, when they go to Manchester City in a quarter-final. Yet the Championship club have already seen off West Bromwich Albion, Everton and Stevenage. And all at the first attempt, too.

McDermott can point also to Reading's run to the last eight last season, when they capitulated 4-2 against Aston Villa after leading 2-0 at half-time. Add to that their current unbeaten seven-match sequence, their haul of 14 goals in their past five games and a record of only three defeats in 24 outings in all competitions.

Then there is the x factor – McDermott's unbridled passion for the competition – and Roberto Mancini's City slickers might have to endure a fraught 90 minutes. "The Cup brings a lot of kudos, it's good for a club," McDermott said. "What's not to love about it? Leave it alone."

Matt Mills, the Reading captain, shares the sentiments. "I like it, Millsy," McDermott says as he pokes his bald pate around a door and catches the former City central defender in the act of praising him. Matt Lucas, another McDermott doppelganger, would have been proud of the timing and humour of the moment.

"We've picked up a few good results against Premier League teams and it all comes from the manager's passion for the Cup," Mills said. "He speaks so highly about it. I remember when we played Stevenage, we were walking to a rest-room before the game, and he was just beaming, saying how much he loved the competition. And that rubs off on the lads."

McDermott, all crome dome and spectacles, versus Mancini, he of the flowing locks and Italian elegance: a contrast in character and in style, too. Mrs McDermott can't wait. "My wife said to me that it'll be quite difficult to tell the difference between me and him on the touchline," McDermott said. "She seemed to think that was funny."

Manchester City v Reading is on ESPN today, kick-off 4.45pm