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Royals step up defender search

Published: 19 Jul 2011 17:301 comment

READING manager Brian McDermott is stepping up his search for a central defender to fill the void in his back four.

Double act: Sean Morrison, left, and Alex Pearce sweat it out in training.

Royals have lost three senior centre-backs since the end of last season following the departure of skipper Matt Mills, former captain Ivar Ingimarsson and Zurab Khizanishvili.

Mills was sold to Championship rivals Leicester City for a whopping £5.5 million after the 25-year-old rejected a new deal at Madejski Stadium.

In addition, Ingimarsson, 33, and Zurab Khizanishvili, 29, were both released and are now plying their trade with Ipswich Town and Turkish club Kayserispor respectively.

It means Sean Morrison and Alex Pearce are the only specialist centre-backs left at the club and McDermott was forced to use left-back Ian Harte and the versatile Brynjar Gunnarsson in that position during the first-team's opening pre-season friendly in Slovenia last weekend.

Harte and Gunnarsson got 45 minutes each as Royals kicked-off their European tour by thrashing NK Dravograd 7-0.

But McDermott knows the pair are not a viable long-term answer to his defensive problems.

"At this moment in time I'm trying to find a centre-half because we need one," explained Royals' boss following recent links with free agent Anthony Gardner.

"I put Ian there because he can play there. He will be left-back during the season and Marcus Williams will compete with him for that position.

"I also thought Brynjar was outstanding at the back. It won't be a long term fix but every time he's played there for us he's done very well.

"He's a great person, he's tough, he talks through a game so well, and he was outstanding at Manchester City last season in the FA Cup, he's never let anyone down. I'm so pleased he signed another deal with us."

Former Tottenham Hotspur defender Gardner is a free agent after being released by Hull City, having spent last season on loan at Crystal Palace.

But McDermott could be looking for someone younger who has time on his side before the transfer window shuts at the end of August.

His team certainly looked sharp up front on the weekend as they disposed of Slovenian third tier outfit Dravograd with ease.

Noel Hunt grabbed a hat-trick in the first-half while a brace from Mathieu Manset and strikes from Shane Long and Simon Church completed the rout.

All 22 players in the squad were given a run-out and Reading could have won by even more after four goals were disallowed.

"I was pleased, it was a perfect game for us as far as a first game back goes," declared McDermott. "We had two sides out and they did very well.

"I thought the workrate was good, our attitude to the game was good and I was pleased with that."

And he argues there were no signs of a Wembley hangover on the trip following Royals Championship play-off final defeat to Swansea City in May.

"The attitude has been great, people tell me after the game we had at the end of last season there could be a hangover, but anyone around the place can see there is no such thing," insisted McDermott.

"They're ready to play and looking forward to the season."

Royals are due to face a much tougher examination tonight against Karabükspor at FC Stojnic, which is 20 minutes away from the team's training base in Ptuj.

The Turkish top-flight finished ninth in the Super Liga last season and will give McDermott's men a severe test.

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