OWLS FLYING UNDER GRAY AS RED DOES FOR ROYALS
AS ENTERTAINING as this game at the Madejski was, it was effectively over as a contest within ten minutes.
After Reading centre back Alex Pearce was dismissed for fouling Jacques Maghoma in the box, and Chris Maguire had converted the resulting penalty kick, it was hard to see the visitors getting beaten, let alone by the heavy score lines with which Reading had seen off Bolton and Blackpool in recent weeks.
But the way this encounter started, it appeared another rout was possible for the Royals.
Chris Kirkland did just enough to prevent in-form Royals striker Adam le Fondre from rounding him when through after two minutes, before Miguel Llera made a last-gap clearance after Pavel Pogrebnyak had knocked the ball goal-bound past Kirkland shortly after.
However, instead of being two-up early on, the hosts were soon a man and a goal down.
Numerous Reading players surrounded referee Keith Hill to protest Pearce’s innocence after he tangled with Maghoma, however the Republic of Ireland international remained grounded on the turf, seemingly aware of his fate.The red card was duly shown.
“There’s one talking point in this game,” fumed Reading manager Nigel Adkins.
“The referee wrongly, in my opinion, sent off our centre half. I’m not sure it’s a penalty, the player says he didn’t touch him and it’s inconclusive on the video footage we’ve got.
“All right, he gave the penalty, but there’s no way it should have been a red card. Kaspars Gorkss was there making a challenge just as the lad goes to ground.
“How he sent him off is wrong, and that really has changed the complexion of the game.”
Incredibly, this was Wednesday’s first penalty away from Hillsborough since December 2011 – not that Maguire looked rusty from 12 yards as he sent Alex McCarthy the wrong way.
“Maguire practices them,” admitted Owls boss Stuart Gray.“But doing them for real on a Saturday afternoon is a bit different to training. ”
In truth,Wednesday should have been out of sight by halftime. Maghoma selfishly shot – and rather tamely, too – on 17 minutes, when playing through Benik Afobe was the better option.
Gorkss blocked well to thwart Keiran Lee after Hope Akpan gave away possession on the halfway line, and Afobe also hit the bar with a thunderous strike in stoppage time.
“Even at half-time, we still believed we could have gone on and won the game,” said Adkins, who opted to stick with the same 4-3-2 formation that his side resorted to after
Pearce’s dismissal following the break.
Commendable as it was leaving two forwards up front, their reduced midfield actually proved more fruitful for Wednesday’s desire to play on the break.
Substitute Michail Antonio, who spent four years at Reading, nearly made it two within a minute of coming on with a low effort from an acute angle, but McCarthy saved well.
The Reading goalkeeper thwarted the same player minutes later with an even better save, but by then he had fumbled Maguire’s longrange effort, which allowed Afobe to double Wednesday’s advantage from close range.
Adkins bemoaned: “Alex uncharacteristically just let one come off him and the player who scores the goal is right on the edge of offside.”
Still the visitors attacked with venom, but still chances were squandered. Jeremy Helan hit the post after a helping hand from McCarthy, Chris Gunter blocked another Antonio effort, and substitute Atdhe Nuhiu dragged a shot narrowly wide. No wonder Gray was a nervous man until the final whistle.
“Did the sending off help us? Of course it did, I think it was a definite sending off,” he said.
“But when we get in front and we can kill teams off, we need to that. Even in the last ten minutes, I was still thinking we should have been three or four up.
“We broke in big numbers a few times, but sometimes we picked the wrong option.
“However, credit goes to the players, it was a collective team performance. We picked them off.”
JUMP FOR JOY: Chris Maguire celebrates his goal
PUNISHED: Benik Afobe scores Sheffield Wednesday’s second goal past Alex McCarthy, who had fumbled