Sheffield Wednesday continued their resurgence under manager Jos Luhukay with a strong cup performance in their all-Championship tie with Reading.
Kosovo international Atdhe Nuhiu bagged a brace either side of half-time and George Boyd claimed his first in Wednesday colours to book their place in the fifth round of the FA Cup for the first time since 2014.
The Owls rode their luck at times but were ruthlessly efficient when it mattered and have now gone four matches without defeat since Luhukay’s left-field appointment.
It was all change for both Wednesday and the Royals at a chilly, subdued Hillsborough. Managers Luhukay and Jaap Stam made it abundantly clear where their priorities lie, making seven alterations apiece to their starting elevens.
For the Owls, only Daniel Pudil, Morgan Fox, Frederico Venancio and Adam Reach retained their starting spots.
Wednesday’s much-changed team made a nervy start and were indebted to Dawson producing a fine save in a one-on-one situation to deny David Edwards after the Reading midfielder latched on to a fine through ball by Leandro Bacuna.
Debutant Joey Pelupessy was then cautioned after bringing down Pelle Clement near the Owls’ penalty area after a sloppy pass by captain Glenn Loovens.
There was a real lack of confidence and quality in the Owls’ offensive play as the Royals dominated possession.
Matias joined Pelupessy in the book after scything down Jon Dadi Bodvarsson near the halfway line.
And the forward was lucky not to pick up a second yellow after another silly foul on Liam Moore.
The visitors continued to carry the greater attacking threat and Yann Kermorgant failed to connect with a volley after a good cross from the right by the industrious Garath McCleary.
Against the run of play, the Owls opened the scoring just before the half hour mark. Nuhiu raced on to Frederico Venancio’s raking pass and he drilled a low shot past Anssi Jaakkola from an acute angle.
It was Nuhiu’s third goal of the campaign and his second in the competition this season and the strike lifted both his team and their supporters.
Reading failed to cut out a George Boyd delivery and the ball fell invitingly into the path of Morgan Fox, whose fierce shot was blocked by the legs of Jaakkola.
Some of the Royals’ approach play was slick and incisive and they should have restored parity just after half-time.
Wednesday switched off defensively and McCleary picked out the unmarked Kermorgant in the middle but the Reading striker fired straight at Dawson from eight yards out.
Moments later, Venancio spared Dawson’s blushes, hacking the ball away to safety after the young shot-stopped had raced off his line to try and intercept a pass.
But Dawson quickly redeemed himself, pulling off a miraculous double save to prevent Bodvarsson scoring at the back post.
It proved a big turning point as Nuhiu doubled the Owls’ advantage in the 53rd minute after brilliant work by Marco Matias. The Portuguese attacker dispossessed McCleary deep inside Reading’s half and his delivery was turned home by Nuhiu inside the six-yard box.
Bacuna was desperately unlucky not to reduce the Royals’ arrears on the hour mark. McCleary squared to the midfielder, who’s rasping right foot drive struck Dawson’s left hand post.
And Wednesday made Reading pay for their profligacy in front of goal when George Boyd added a third. With Jaakkola caught well out of position, Boyd coolly fired home after being teed up by the tireless Matias.
Oozing confidence and self belief, the Owls kept piling the pressure on in the closing stages and Nuhiu looked hungry to score his first hat-trick in Wednesday colours. First he volleyed narrowly wide before his delicate chip forced Jaakkola into a comfortable stop.
It could have been tougher evening for Wednesday had Reading shown more composure in the final third. Kermorgant’s acrobatic over-head kick flew off target before Moore steered a six yard header into the arms of Dawson.
Matias terrorised the Royals backline in the second half and he should have capped an excellent individual display with a goal after a jinking his way into the area but he dragged a shot inches off target.
Boyd and Matias had attempts expertly kept out by Jaakkola before Reading grabbed a late consolation when a deflected cross hit the post and went in off the unfortunate Dawson, with substitute Sam Smith sliding in to make absolutely sure the ball had gone over the line.
Wednesdayites have had little to cheer in a disappointing campaign but their progress in the cup is lifting the mood around S6.
Owls: Dawson; Venancio, Loovens, Pudil (Palmer 63); Hunt, Pelupessy, Boyd, Reach (Jones 71), Fox; Matias (Rhodes 89), Nuhiu. Substitutes: Wildsmith, Butterfield, Joao, Wallace.
Reading: Jaakkola; Gunter, Moore, Ilori; Bacuna (Evans 79), Beerens, Clement, Edwards, McCleary (Barrow 66); Kermorgant (Smith 79), Bodvarsson. Substitutes: Mannone, Aluko, Blackett, Kelly.
Referee: John Brooks (Leicestershire)