Ian Holloway he ain't. And Blackpool they ain't. If, as seems increasingly likely after Saturday's 4-2 triumph at West Ham, Reading play in the Premier League next season, Brian McDermott will bring a less effusive style of management and a very well-balanced team.
They may not have us drooling with quite such frequency as Brendan Rodgers's Swansea City can but Reading, to judge from the display at Upton Park, do exude the qualities of teamwork and organisation that have made several recently promoted sides – Blackpool included, and Norwich City – such welcome additions to the elite.
So expertly has McDermott engineered his resources that, at times in an hour that liberally fuelled Sam Allardyce's detractors, Reading seemed to have six at the back, five in midfield and four up front. That is a mark of a proper team with a sense of purpose and it was only too discernible on a day when West Ham appeared the opposite. Allardyce listed the mistakes leading to the concession of goals with the candour and accuracy of a golfer going through his round but missed the point that McDermott's men, hardly error-free themselves, had made with their bodies: after a slow start, they passed and moved with Premier League style. West Ham did that only in the false dawn of an early goal Kevin Nolan expertly prompted.
With six matches of the normal season to run, the Easter congestion almost upon us and Southampton – the only club above Reading – having been issued a reminder to take nothing for granted in the painful form of three unanswered goals at Blackpool, McDermott and company still have much to do to earn an automatic return to the top level, at which they spent the 2006/7 and 2007/8 seasons.
They appear, however, to have found their best form at the right time and possess some personalities who might thrive on a step up, such as the midfielder Mikele Leigertwood – he may have been around a while but can never have borne such an air of authority – and a central defender of apparent class in Alex Pearce, not to mention the veterans Jason Roberts, whose midwinter acquisition from Blackburn has proved yet another example of McDermott's eye for an educated tweak, and Ian Harte.
The rise of McDermott has been slow but heartening. Once an Arsenal fringe player whose subsequent career peaked when, with Norrköping, he was named Sweden's player of the year in 1984, he managed a couple of semi-professional clubs before becoming Reading's chief scout in 2000. He also looked after the youth and reserve teams and, when Rodgers left for Swansea in December 2009, succeeded to the first-team post.
Mighty feats followed in the FA Cup – victories over Liverpool in 2010 and Everton and West Bromwich Albion last year – and it took Rodgers's Swansea to beat his Reading in the play-off final at Wembley last May. Despite the loss of Shane Long to West Bromwich, they have kept improving. Just as Rodgers has built on the legacy of Roberto Martinez at Swansea, McDermott has developed what he could retain of Rodgers's work; a year before Long's departure, Gylfi Sigurdsson went to Hoffenheim and the Icelander is now excelling on loan with Rodgers in South Wales.
Neither McDermott nor Southampton's Nigel Adkins is the clear front-runner for Championship manager of the year, however – not while Chris Hughton has Birmingham in a play-off place. To take the relegated crisis club back to the Premier League would be an extraordinary feat.
To restore Blackpool would be quite a feather in Holloway's cap, too, and their win over Southampton suggests a determination to make the cut at the expense of Brighton, Middlesbrough or a Cardiff City perhaps drained by their Carling Cup campaign. But the club whose fortunes we shall always hear most about is West Ham, where expectation flies as relatively high as the player budget and Allardyce has never been accepted.
Fans scorning the style and standard of play demand that he head back up North. Vainly he protests that he is from the Midlands. There is no middle ground in a situation like this – ask Roy Hodgson, late of Liverpool – and yet that is where the dissident army will find themselves if West Ham, as expected, are consigned to the play-offs.
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