Updated: Friday, 08 March 2013 09:12 | By Agence France-Presse

McDermott braced for tight drop fight

Reading manager Brian McDermott believes this season's relegation battle could be the closest for years and has warned his side the final outcome could be decided by goal difference.

McDermott's club currently lie second from bottom but will move above Aston Villa, who sit one place and one point above them, if they beat Paul Lambert's side at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.

That would be a timely boost after defeats by Wigan and Everton, but with things so tight at the foot of the table, McDermott is desperate to avoid a repeat of five years ago when Reading were relegated despite finishing level on points with fourth-from-bottom Fulham.

McDermott was Reading's chief scout then and he said: "I was there the day we went down and I know all about that. It could go down to goal difference.

"We went down by three goals in 2008 so we know it is important to stay in every game even if we are losing.

"It might well be that at the end of the season everyone is looking at this end of the league instead of the other as I think that will be done and dusted by then. It would be nice if we weren't part of that by the final day, but if we are then we are."

Reading finished strongly last season, winning 15 or the last 17 games to clinch promotion from the Championship and McDermott hopes that experience will help his side during the final 10 games of this campaign.

"I know we are going to finish strong. We generally finish strong. We have players that won a league last year and came from nowhere," McDermott insisted.

"We have that sort of experience and this is a similar sort of thing for us.

"For us it is a 10-game season now. We know what it's about, we know what is required. We did what we had to do last year and will aim to do what we need to this year."

Lambert, the Villa manager, believes his charges must show a more ruthless side if they are to survive ahead of pivotal back-to-back games with their relegation rivals.

Villa head into the meeting at Reading on the back of yet another near miss against Manchester City on Monday.

The 1-0 defeat by the champions, which came after a calamitous mistake by Ciaran Clark, left Villa rooted in the bottom three in 18th position.

Lambert, whose side had dropped points late on in four of their previous seven league games before the City fixture, said: "The tempo of play, the movement and endeavour -- and the energy and sheer will to win -- have been very much in evidence for a number of weeks now.

"The consistency of our performances is very encouraging as we get deeper into the final third of the season.

"There are 30 points to play for, which is a hell of a lot of football in which to compete between now and the middle of May.

"If we continue to play the way we're playing, results will come. I'm sure of that.

"The fact is that we are where we are but we've learnt plenty over the course of the campaign so far and the most important lesson has been the necessity to see the games through. It's essential in an unforgiving league.

"Too many times we've seized the advantage in games only to be pegged back.

"You have to see it out when you get into that position. It's that simple."

Villa will be without the suspended Fabian Delph, who begins a two-match ban after picking up his 10th booking of the campaign.

Darren Bent (foot) is expected to miss out again, however Lambert hopes to be able to call on skipper Ron Vlaar following a calf problem.

Latest Photo Galleries on xinmsn