Will this Sheffield Wednesday team ever find their shooting boots this season?
We are fast approching the halfway point in the campaign and the Owls keep making the same mistakes over and over again in front of goal.
To be successful in the Championship, you have to have a killer instinct. When you are on top and dominating matches, you have to ram home your advantage.
You have to take your chances.
For the umpteeenth time this season, Carlos Carvalhal was left cursing Wednesday’s inadequate finishing as they slipped to a 2-1 defeat in Berkshire.
The Owls edged an uneventful first half, with Al Habsi producing a flying save to keep out Ross Wallace’s fierce 20-yard drive. Giant forward Atdhe Nuhiu, making his first league start of the season with Fernando Forestieri suspended, fired over and Barry Bannan also flashed a shot wide.
Wednesday were in control and Lucas Joao should have given them the lead immediately after the break. He fluffed his lines and it came back to bite the visitors, with Reading’s Roy Beerens then striking twice in 19 minutes.
For the second match running, Steven Fletcher stepped up off the bench to pull one back in added on time and he almost rescued a point for the Owls in a pulsating finish only to see his low, rasping effort turned away by Al Habsi.
It was another missed opportunity and it is a familiar tale of woe for Wednesday.
Scoring the first goal is vital in the second tier, particularly on the road. It puts the home side under pressure as the onus is largely on them to do most of the attacking.
When Joao raced on to Sam Hutchinson’s measured pass, he had to score. He did everything right apart from the bit that really mattered which was finding the net.
Joao had neatly turned inside Tyler Blackett but inexplicably dragged his attempt wide of the post. He wrongfooted Al Habsi but some how missed the target.
It was a pivotal, game-changing moment.
Goalkeeper Keiren Westwood said: “Lucas had a good chance but the main thing for me was he was there to take that chance.
“If he wasn’t getting the chances, it would be a bigger issue. It was a good chance but everybody misses chances.
“The big thing is Lucas is getting chances and it is only a matter of time before he takes them.”
Wednesday would have leapfrogged Reading with a win and their hopes of picking up a positive result would have greatly increased had Joao, who has only managed two goals this calendar year, stuck that opportunity away.
“There is a saying ‘if you don’t kill, you can die’,” said Carvalhal.
“We prepared very well for the game and we closed down Reading very well. I don’t remember any problem for us in the first half.
“We had a clear chance in the second half, probably the best clear chance of the game but we didn’t get the goal.”
Reading punished the Owls at the other end, although they got a big slice of luck for Beerens’ opener. After the visitors failed to properly clear Garath McCleary’s set-piece, the ball fell nicely for Beerens on the edge of the area and the Dutchman’s left-foot strike took a wicked deflection off Tom Lees before nestling in the net. There was nothing Westwood could do to keep it out. Carvalhal felt the free-kick should not have been awarded in the first place, claiming Hutchinson won the ball.
“We were unlucky with the first goal as the lads threw that bodies at it,” said Westwood. “If he got a proper connection on it, it probably goes out for a corner.
“It’s just our luck that it goes in the far corner.”
Beerens and Reading’s second goal was far too easy. Al Habsi launched the ball upfield and both Glenn Loovens and Lees went for an aerial duel with substitute Yann Kermorgant. Loovens and Lees, who had looked so composed for so much of a tight contest, came off second best and Beerens latched on to the flick-on before coolly drilling a right-foot shot into the bottom corner. It was the killer blow.
LET’S NOT GO OVERBOARD
As disappointing and as frustrating as it was for the 2,000-plus travelling supporters to see Wednesday lose to one of their main promotion rivals, some perspective is needed.
The Owls rallied late on, underlining their fighting spirit. Fletcher’s far-post header went in off the post and gave them hope. At no point did the side just accept their fate.
Carvalhal stressed: “We played well and I am proud of my players but obviously disappointed with the result.
“Our players never gave up.”
Wednesday were without a string of key players, including strikers Forestieri and Gary Hooper. Hot prospect George Hirst made his league debut as a second-half sub and he didn’t let anybody down but Wednesday could have done with some firepower on the bench.
Reading are no mugs either. Saturday’s victory was their sixth in seven league outings. They are third in the table for a reason. They are incredibly strong at home and manager Jaap Stam has done a great job there.
Although the Owls left the Madjeski Stadium empty-handed, Carvalhal’s charges remain well placed ahead of back-to-back Hillsborough matches. All is not lost.
There are plenty of doom and gloom merchants out there but two home victories would go a long way towards silencing the doubters.