OWLS FLY­ING UN­DER GRAY AS RED DOES FOR ROY­ALS

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Nick Bull

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

PIC­TURES: Ja­son Daw­son

PUN­ISHED: Benik Afobe scores Sh­effield Wed­nes­day’s sec­ond goal past Alex McCarthy, who had fum­bled

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