Royals come out on top in crucial game
What a difference one result can make! A perfect away performance gave Reading a 2-0 victory at fellow play-off chasers Sheffield Wednesday, also thanks to same heroics by Ali Al-Habsi.
As he has done in the previous games of late, Stam made three changes to the side that was comfortably beaten at Preston last week, with Moore, Williams and Beerens returning for Lewis Grabban, and the injured duo of McShane and Mutch. Reading arguably started the better of the two sides, as Williams had two early efforts at goal - one was deflected and the other went harmlessly over.
Rhodes and Winnall both had half chances within a few minutes of each other, but neither tested Al-Habsi between the sticks. Both manager highlighted how the first goal was going to be important during the week and fortunately that went in the favour of the visitors. Swift played a superb ball down the channel and Kermorgant took a smart touch inside to give himself space, before slotting the ball home from ten yards.
It wasn`t the prettiest finish, but a very smart one at that, with Westwood having no chance of getting to it. It took this goal to wake the home side up, who started very slowly at Hillsborough. Sam Winnall`s stabbed effort towards goal, which went through a crowd, hit the post to the fortune of the Royals, while Reach could have done better after Winnall set up the former Royals target but smashed over.
A superb Al-Habsi save meant the Royals went in ahead at the break, as Reach`s deflected shot towards goal was a good height for Rhodes to make connection with a header, but Al-Habsi made a Gordon Banks-esque save to claw away his goalbound effort. A truly wonderful from the Omani, in what wasn`t the first time he has come to our rescue this season, and it certainly wasn`t the last time in this game!
With Reading keen to sit on their lead, Wednesday came out all guns blazing after half time. Bannan`s inviting delivery was calling out for a telling touch, but dropped just wide of the post. While Reading were being stubborn, this didn`t mean they were not capable of launching an attack of their own - John Swift came close to doubling the lead as he drove in from the left, but placed his effort just wide.
We continued to look very comfortable until the final fifteen minutes, as Wednesday finally started to apply some noticeable pressure - Ali wasn`t to be beaten though. Substitute McManaman would have thought he equalised when he finally had Al-Habsi beaten, but Liam Moore was on hand to clear off the line. Steven Fletcher`s effort deflected off Blackett, but luckily looped onto the top of the net.
This then signified the start of the Al-Habsi show. From the first corner, he clawed away a header then showcased his reflexes by then getting up to deny Buckley with a superb reaction save. The following corner was only cleared to the edge of the box, where he palmed away another effort from danger. The Omani wasn`t done there, as he made another great save from point blanc range from a corner.
The hammer blow was dealt in injury time, as Reading broke down the pitch to seal the game. With every Wednesday player in the area, Williams won a 50-50 in midfield from a recovering Wednesday player. This allowed substitute Adrian Popa to sit down two defenders, before running the ball into an empty net. A superb role played by Williams, but superb composure from the Romanian to score.
A crazy final fifteen minutes, but superb and resolute defending meant we left Sheffield with probably our most crucial three points of the season. Fulham`s loss on Saturday means we have a very healthy six point gap between us and seventh place. With eight games left to play, we have given ourselves some breathing space, but we can`t take our foot off the gas. Onwards and upwards!
Sheffield Wednesday - 4-4-2: Westwood; Hunt, Loovens, Lees, Fox; Buckley, Bannan, Jones, Reach; Rhodes, Winnall.
Subs: Wildsmith, Palmer, Matias, Semedo, McManaman, Nuhiu, Fletcher.
Reading - 4-3-3: Al-Habsi; Gunter, Moore, Blackett, Obita; Van den Berg, Williams, Swift; McCleary, Kermorgant, Beerens.
Subs: Legg, Oxford, Watson, Meite, Popa, Grabban, Mendes.