Manager of the Month jinx strikes at Reading

Born and bred in Reading, I had been heartened, although not totally convinced, by the Royals' improved results in what has been a season-long battle against relegation. They even briefly popped up in third place in a recent Premiership form table, which admittedly doesn't say much for the other teams.

Reading manager Brian McDermott

After their good run came the news I most definitely didn't want to hear. Reading boss Brian McDermott was named Manager of the Month and so-called 'super sub' Adam le Fondre was Player of the Month.

As any long-suffering fan knows, it's part of football folklore that anyone named best manager will soon get his comeuppance - unless it's Sir Alex Ferguson, of course.

The award is usually the kiss of death and almost guarantees a miserable run of results. So after those honours there could only be one result in the Royals' next game - a tame defeat.

And sure enough, Reading didn't defy the curse. It struck when they lost 2-1 away to a poor Stoke side in a dire game that sent the Royals back into the bottom three.

And that, I fear, is where Reading will remain for the rest of the season. I know you shouldn't give up on your team with a dozen matches to go, but the outlook doesn't look too promising.

Three of Reading's next five league fixtures include away games at Everton, Manchester United and Arsenal. You won't need to get the abacus out to estimate how many points the Royals will earn from those games. And something quite horrible could happen to their goal difference.

Nonetheless, Le Fondre, who is the first Reading player to win the monthly award in the Premiership, deserves his moment in the spotlight. In four straight league games he came off the bench to hit five goals to help Reading enjoy their fleeting elevation out of the bottom three. He was only on the field for a total of 68 minutes.

Le Fondre is the first winner of the award to have started every game on the bench. Unfortunately, put him on for a full 90 minutes and he doesn't seem to be capable of hitting the proverbial backside of a buffalo with a banjo.

Despite his continental-sounding name, Le Fondre was born in Stockport, which is about as British as they come. However there is a Gallic influence, with his grandfather being French. Although he is an Adam, he has acquired the nickname of "Alf", derived from his initials.

It wasn't Alf's first player of the month award either. With Rotherham three years ago, he picked up the award after scoring five goals in four games, including four in one match against Cheltenham Town.

McDermott is not the first Reading manager to receive the Premiership's gaffer of the month honour. His predecessor, Steve Coppell, achieved it twice in the 2006-7 season, plus many similar honours in the Championship.

Coppell, who is now with Crawley Town, was also named League Managers Association Manager of the Year two successive years, 2006 and 2007.

It will come as no surprise that the manager who leads the monthly awards is Ferguson, who has taken the prize on 27 occasions. Where does he put all the trophies?

Arsene Wenger is in second place, a considerable way behind, with 12 awards, followed by David Moyes on nine with Martin O'Neill and Harry Redknapp on eight apiece.

Fergie is probably finding this season relatively relaxing. With the unprecedented nail-biting climax to last season's Premier League, it was always on the cards that this season could be a bit underwhelming and it appears to be turning out that way.

The title race appears to be all but settled. Despite last year's heroics, Manchester City seem to lack the same spark this season and are really not looking capable of overturning 12 points the way they are playing.

The relegation battle is a little more competitive, although it is quite possible that the bottom three at the moment - QPR, Wigan and Reading - are the trio heading for the drop.

However, in recent years, Wigan have made escaping relegation something of an art form, and while escape artiste Roberto Martinez remains manager it would be foolish to write them off this early.

By coincidence, QPR and Reading are the only two teams in the entire Football League who play in blue and white hoops, but the colours dont seem to have brought them much luck this season.

Of course, QPR gaffer Redknapp knows all about relegation scraps. One he won't want to be reminded of was during his ill-fated time at Southampton, when the Saints went down in 2005, dropping out of the top flight for the first time in 27 years.

Moving on to Portsmouth, Redknapp just avoided a second successive relegation the following season, producing a flurry of inspired results to keep Pompey up.

Then Harry abandoned ship to join Tottenham Hotspur, who themselves were in deep relegation trouble as winter approached in 2008. He went on to transform the club's fortunes, picking up numerous "Arry Houdini" headlines in the process.

It was as if Harry had boarded the Hogwarts Express and picked up Harry Potter's magic wand on his journey from Fratton Park to White Hart Lane. Considering QPR's present dire situation, Harry might well have to resort to magic tricks to save the day.

As we go into the final stretch, as far as McDermott, Martinez and Redknapp are concerned, there's nothing wrong with 17th place.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Nobby Piles
Position: Reporter