Sheffield Wednesday: Owls cause a right Royal splash at Madejski

Reading v Sheffield Wednesday.....GOAL...Owls Benik Afobe salutes his first goal for Wednesday with team-mate Jose Semedo
Reading v Sheffield Wednesday.....GOAL...Owls Benik Afobe salutes his first goal for Wednesday with team-mate Jose Semedo
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Soldiers trying to stem floodwater from the River Thames a few miles from the Madejski Stadium were not the only ones with a thankless task in Reading on Saturday.

The Royals football team were swamped by waves of Wednesday attacks as Stuart Gray’s men seized upon an advantage that came their way and surged to their first league double of the season.

This extension of the unbeaten run to 11 games could have included even more goals than the 5-2 Hillsborough thriller in November.

There were 10 chances or near-misses for the Owls besides their first penalty of the campaign and Benik Afobe’s first goal.

A first win in their five attempts at the Madejski Stadium was something else for the record books.

It was entertaining and thoroughly deserved as well - completely different from a closer contest against depleted Barnsley a week earlier, and that was perhaps because the 10 men this time went a goal down straight away so had to try to attack instead of shutting up shop.

From the viewing angle of the press box and the TV cameras it was impossible to tell for sure whether referee Keith Hill got it right when he penalised centre-half Alex Pearce and sent him off in the 10th minute.

What is certain is that Wednesday on several occasions this season have suffered from big decisions that were very clearly wrong.

It is also a fact that before he ended up on the deck Benik Afobe did very well to receive a good ball from Miguel Llera and show his strength by holding off Pearce before getting in behind him, and appeared to be about to shoot.

Gray backed the ref, Nigel Adkins questioned whether contact was made.

Said the Owls boss: “I think it was a definite sending-off because Afobe is through one on one and about to pull his leg back to shoot.”

Chris Maguire’s cool penalty - his sixth goal in nine games - made sure the Owls took full advantage.

Reading, to their credit, carried the fight at times, making it an open contest, but Wednesday played some telling stuff through midfield and up front, allied to their usual workrate and organisation, and the second half in particular might have seen the goal floodgates open if a bit more thought and precision had been exercised around the box.

The first-half opportunities or near-misses featured Kieran Lee, who was superb in midfield,Jacques Maghoma, Afobe, when he grazed the bar in stoppage time, and Maguire.

In the second half, the score could have been increased by Michail Antonio, Maguire, Jeremy Helan, who hit the post, Maghoma and sub Atdhe Nuhiu, who twice ignored better-placed colleagues to shoot from tight angles.

That mix included a few saves from Alex McCarthy.

Antonio was on for the second half because the recalled Rhys McCabe had taken a knock and a booking and was one tackle away from being sent off, judged Gray.

It should have been a goal in less than a minute of Antonio’s comeback when Maghoma (not Afobe as was said on TV) teed him up and McCarthy saved.

But the second goal came in the 57th minute. Antonio’s nice cross was flicked on by the head of Afobe to Maguire; his shot came back off the keeper and Afobe delightfully chipped the ball home,

Antonio was also waiting for a tap-in on one of the occasions when Nuhiu went for goal.

So it almost all went swimmingly for Wednesday, despite their shortage of defenders and strikers, against a team who had won 7-1 and 5-1 in their previous two home games and after the first five minutes could have gone two up.

FIFA’s failure to supply international clearance in time for Cardiff’s Adedeji Oshilaja to make his debut after his loan move from Wales to England resulted in the disruption of the dynamic Lee-Jose Semedo midfield partnership and a first Wednesday game at centre-half for Semedo, who played there a few times with Llera at Charlton.

But the two were rocky -steady, with Llera playing the leading role, once they had got over that scary opening. Adam Le Fondre got in behind them and Kirkland had to save at his feet. Then Pavel Pogrebnyak did likewise, Kirkland challenged and Llera cleared almost off the line.

After that, the 22-goal strike pair were subdued, Le Fondre in particular.

Besides Semedo, Helan showed his versatility in a central midfield role after McCabe stayed off.

Wednesday continually caused problems with their pace and inter-changing, through Helan, Afobe and Maghoma, who started as a second striker behind Afobe, and subs Antonio and Caolan Lavery.

Gray was reluctant to single out individuals and praised the team effort, but was satisfied with the way Semedo and Helan adapted.

He also said: “After that first five minutes we controlled their two forwards. Did the sending-off help us? Obviously it did but Reading still showed power and pace. Credit to our players, they picked them off, kept possession well, and when we broke we broke in numbers. We need to learn to kill teams off when we’ve got the opportinities.”

He also had to admit that Afobe made a “fantastic” impact. “We’re grateful to Arsenal. The boy’s got a talent,” he said.

“He occupied the two centre-halves and caused them problems with his pace, his power. We said if we can slide the ball in with a bit of quality and get their centre-halves facing their own goal we’d cause them problems, as it showed with the sending-off incident.

“ We created the better chances and could have won by a bigger score.”