Sheffield Wednesday match verdict: Reading 2 Owls 0

Disappointment for the Owls
Disappointment for the Owls
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From the euphoria of Dejphon Chansiri completing his takeover of Sheffield Wednesday, to the disappointment of a rare below-par showing by the team on the road.

It just goes to show quickly things can change in planet football.

Forty-eight hours after acquiring a 100 per cent stake in the Championship club, Chansiri, who’s buyout is still subject to Football League ratification, which outgoing chairman Milan Mandaric believes will be a ‘formality’, and his advisors watched on as the Owls’ fading hopes of securing a play-off place suffered another setback.

Before Pavel Pogrebnyak’s 29th-minute opener, there was little to choose between the two sides. Chris Maguire and Lewis Baker both tested the reflexes of Adam Federici while Keiren Westwood produced a fine save to stop Simon Cox from registering at the other end.

But the Owls struggled throughout to nullify Garath McCleary’s threat on the right flank. He was a nuisance with his pace, trickery and directness and it was no surprise the Royals’ goals came from that side of the pitch.

Pogrebnyak, a good focal point for Reading up front, headed in from eight yards after Stephen Kelly’s inviting cross. It was uncharacteristically poor marking by Wednesday, who have built their success this season on a strong defence.

Three minutes before the interval, England Under-21 international Nathaniel Chalobah, on loan from Chelsea, doubled the hosts’ advantage, rifling in McCleary’s cross to give the Owls a mountain to climb.

Hal Robson-Kanu had an effort hooked off the line by Wednesday skipper Glenn Loovens, who will miss the next two Championship fixtures due to suspension after collecting his 10th caution of the campaign, as Reading threatened to run riot.

The Owls lined-up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Kieran Lee and Sam Hutchinson, making his first start since mid-October, coming into midfield. It is a system which has previously served them well on their travels. It didn’t work against Reading and they switched to a 4-4-2 formation after the interval.

Head coach Stuart Gray defended his personnel changes and tactics, insisting: “It’s not shape that wins or loses you games. You lose games by not stopping crosses and marking strikers in the box.

“The disappointing thing from our point of view is we have defended very, very well but if you let a team put two free crosses into the box, with the quality they have got, you are going to get punished, which we did do. It was unusual for us.”

While understandably disappointed by their slack defending, Gray conceded they missed Jose Semedo’s steel in the middle of the park. The Portuguese player was left out due to a toe infection. His late withdrawal had a big knock-on-effect on Wednesday’s game-plan.

“I can’t remember us putting a tackle in in the first half,” said Gray. “There are two sides to the game: with and without the ball.

“I thought with the ball we were reasonably good until that final piece of the jigsaw.

“But we had far too many players not winning 50/50 challenges. You have to have tacklers and a real desire to win the ball back.

“Semi pulled out at 10am on Saturday. If he has got an injury, you know it’s really bad. We missed him because he gives us that bit of strength.

“One thing Semi does do is he puts his foot in and he doesn’t shirk responsibility.”

The complexion of the contest could have completely changed had Baker’s drive gone in on the stroke of half-time. He was kept at bay by the agility of Federici.

Jeremy Helan, brought on as a half-time replacement, admitted: “I thought the first half let us down. It was always going to be difficult to come from 2-0 down, especially away from home. The first half killed us.

“We have to look at the mistakes we made and learn from them. Our defence has been our strength this year. We let ourselves down but we have to bounce back.”

Wednesday improved after the break following the introduction of Helan and Atdhe Nuhiu but looked vulnerable on the counter attack.

McCleary thought that he had made it 3-0 when thundering in a shot after a rapid Reading break, but he was deemed to have strayed offside.

Steve Clarke, the Royals boss, said: “For some reason, the assistant referee saw an offside that wasn’t even close. It was a great finish from Garath.”

Reading spurned a glorious opportunity to grab a third just before the hour mark after Helan was penalised for clumsily bringing down Pogrebnyak, but Robson-Kanu’s weak penalty was comfortably saved by Westwood. Reading also missed a spot-kick in the reverse fixture, which Wednesday won 1-0.

With 16 minutes left, Jacques Maghoma went close to reducing the deficit before Claude Dielna’s free-kick was brilliantly turned away by Federici.

It is easy to see why Gray has decided to bolster his strikeforce by capturing Romanian striker Sergiu Bus from CSKA Sofia. There remains a lack of end product to some of their intricate build-up play.

He said: “We need someone who can put the ball in the back of the net. I can hardly remember laying a glove on Reading and we didn’t work the keeper apart from once in the first half.

“Not for the first time this season, I have seen the ball flash across the six-yard box and we need someone to throw themselves at it and if everything ends up in the net that’s fine, as long as the ball does too.”

Expect Gray to be glued to his mobile phone today, dealing with clubs, agents and players as he looks to bring in several reinforcements before the transfer window shuts at 11pm tonight.

“We know we need to strengthen,” he said. “We are waiting for players and clubs to make decisions.

“The players that we bring in have got to hit the ground running.”

A top-six finish looks like it will be beyond Wednesday. They have fallen to 10th in the division, still nine points shy of the play-off placings, after a three-match winless run.

Helan said: “We will have to put a good run together. We recently won three games in a row and we will have to do that again. We need to win more games if we really want to do something this year. We have to get back on track.”

Gray echoed those sentiments, saying: “The league is wide open. The chance is still there for anyone who can put a decent run of results together.”

Saturday was a disappointing end to a positive week for Wednesday. Given the great strides the club have made in a short space of time under Gray, the players owe it to themselves, their head coach and the supporters to not let their season fizzle out.

Reading: Federici 7; Kelly 7, Pearce 7, Hector 7, Obita 7; McCleary 8 (Blackman 78***); Chalobah 7, Williams 7, Robson-Kanu 7 (Mackie 78**); Pogrebnyak 7, Cox 7 (Norwood 67*). Substitutes: Karacan, Travner, Andersen, Cooper.

Wednesday: Westwood 7; Palmer 6, Lees 6, Loovens 6, Mattock 5 (Helan HT** 6); Baker 6 (Nuhiu HT* 6), Hutchinson 6 (Dielna 68***), Lee 6; Maguire 7, Maghoma 5, Keane 6. Substitutes: Wildsmith, Buxton, May, Coke,