Is Phil Brown really that odious?
The narrative that is Phil Brown’s Best Trip had its antecedents as well as its echoes. Plucky Millwall and Wimbledon were welcomed to top tier football before being vilified for their boisterousness; Reading were popular before a Machiavellian Portuguese accused Stephen Hunt and the Royal Berkshire Ambulance Service; Sheffield United were told to stop moaning about Kia Joorabchian’s machinations; Stoke play bloody awful football; Ian Holloway is an inveterate attention seeker. These people were welcome at the top table for a time but they had to know their place – be seen but not heard.
As with these others, the press tired of Brown and we were credulous enough to go along with them. An open hearted man who enjoyed the buzz of the Premier League was accused of getting ahead of himself – but who wouldn’t be excited by a spell in that sweetshop? Who wouldn’t trust friendly journalists over a late drink in a hotel bar? If warbling with delight at the preservation of Premier League status is a crime, then our world is topsy turvy – the Hull boss has never matched Didier, Wayne, Arjen, John or Jose for delinquency – and yet it is they who are fêted.
On Tuesday, the club I support came up against a Phil Brown-stewarded eleven for the first time in my memory. Following three successive wins, Preston were threatening to become the latest unit to inspire renditions of a now hackneyed war film theme. Drawa with high flying Norwich and Queen’s Park Rangers had also attracted notice and it seemed that Brown’s golden touch was paying dividends again.
For an hour, those suspicions were richly confirmed. Missing their most high profile player, defender Sean St. Ledger, Preston’s line up looked every inch a bottom three unit on paper…and yet, the tactical acumen and organization was evident. Simple ploys worked – right footed Billy Jones enlisted at left back to counter North End’s oftentime tormentor Jimmy Kébé, a three man midfield quick to pressurize a Royals middle three lacking the bite of Mikele Leigertwood and canny new acquisition Bongani Khumalo marshalling adeptly at the back.
Iain Hume, finally emerging from the horror of Morgangate, played the lone front man role well, zippy and sharp, he often threatened to upset Reading’s pension-collecting back line. On the flanks, Keith Treacy and Eddie Johnson showed up prominently; the former making a monkey out of Andy Griffin on one occasion, the latter arriving on the end of a free kick to bring about the equaliser.
But organization can only take you so far and errors bring goals. So it occurred with less than ten minutes to go as Iain Turner and his defence competed for the same ball, allowing Hal Robson-Kanu to pounce. In truth, it had been Brian McDermott’s introduction of Leigertwood and Mathieu Manset plus a significant up in drive that had led Royals to a victory deserved on the basis of the final half hour, but PNE had looked capable of holding out until that catastrophe.
As for Brown, his clever acquisition of right hand man Ian Ashbee and an attention to detail are helping him rebuild a reputation that had been unfairly smeared although it’s obviously too late. Still, his XI on Tuesday smacked of one that will be close to that which will start in August – the higher profile likes of St. Ledger, Andy Lonergan, Nathan Ellington, Paul Hayes and Paul Parry did not start here and nor will they in the Summer. His post match comments hinted a little at Premier League defensiveness but Brown is guilty of nothing more than being occasionally annoying – he’s not sworn into a camera and nor has he tried to cover up racial slurs – give the man a break.