How nasty November has undermined Owls play-off bid: Reading 0 Sheffield Wednesday 0

Glenn Loovens heads clear. Pictures: Steve Ellis
Glenn Loovens heads clear. Pictures: Steve Ellis
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“It was not a great game to watch because it was very tactical.”

You can say that again, Carlos.

Barry Bannan

Barry Bannan

Both the Owls and Reading finished in Championship’s top six last season but are under-performing this time around. Both are struggling to cope with the weight of expectation. Both, at this rate, will do well to finish in the play-offs come May.

Between them, Wednesday and the Royals mustered a grand total of two shots on target in a dour contest. In their four-match November programme, the Owls tested the opposition’s goalkeeper’s FIVE times in over SIX hours of football. This team just doesn’t pepper the goal anywhere near enough.

There were a few plus points Wednesday could take from an uninspiring duel. They kept a welcome clean sheet; only their fourth of the campaign. Joost van Aken, deputising at centre-back for the injured Tom Lees, enhanced his reputation with a solid performance alongside captain Glenn Loovens.

Head coach Carlos Carvalhal said: “He played well. We know he’s a very good player and he moved the ball very well in the offensive part of the team and defensively did really well.

Steven Fletcher beats Joey van den Berg

Steven Fletcher beats Joey van den Berg

“He had a good partner in Glenn. Glenn had a fantastic game against Ipswich and he played at a very good level against Reading. Glenn made it more easy for Joost to play his football. Glenn is an experienced player.”

The draw also stretched the Owls’ unbeaten run to six matches. A point on the road should not be sniffed at.

But the truth is it is hard to watch Wednesday’s expensively-assembled team at the minute. Their style of play is slow, boring and predictable. The attractive, aggressive, entertaining brand of football from Carvalhal’s first year at the helm is nowhere to be seen.

WHOLESALE CHANGES

A rare sight of goal as Adam Reach shoots

A rare sight of goal as Adam Reach shoots

The first 11 needed shaking up. After three matches without changing the side, Carvalhal handed recalls to Liam Palmer, van Aken, Kieran Lee, David Jones, Steven Fletcher and Lucas Joao but the Owls still looked devoid of ideas and quality in the final third.

Despite freshening things up, Wednesday posed little goal threat all afternoon.

Carvalhal insisted: “We have a good squad and the value is similar. Liam and Joost played very well. Jonno did okay in the middle with Baz (Barry Bannan). Kieran played at a good level. Lucas had a chance to play because he has pace and we played Fletch too.

“These are players that we trust absolutely. I believe if we had played the same team as the last game it would be a big problem.

“The team work and discipline was great.

“The creativity was not fantastic and that is a reality.

“But everybody fought hard and were together.”

THE MATCH

In the opening 45 minutes, the visitors much-changed team had no attempts on goal. Zero.

Carvalhal’s men were second best. They tactically set up to sit back, defend in numbers and play on the counter-attack. All they appeared to be concerned with was containing and frustrating Reading. Sone Aluko and Paul McShane fluffed their lines in front of goal.

Carvalhal argued: “We came to the game with a plan.

“They (Reading) played Tuesday, we played Wednesday, so they had one more day to recover. We put out a team that was good and competent.

“Our plan was to try to block Reading’s game in the first half and, in the second half try to win the match. We did what we had to do - we blocked Reading’s dynamic - and the game was very tactical.”

After a woeful first half which was high on industry but low on quality, the Owls marginally improved offensively.

Joao, making his first Wednesday start in 11 months, fired tamely straight at Vito Mannone after the ball broke kindly to him in the box. It was a glorious opportunity.

Joao also nodded narrowly wide after good approach play by Adam Reach and Barry Bannan, who was the shining light on a bleak day in Berkshire. As for Reading, Aluko curled wide and Mo Barrow blazed over when well placed.

Jordan Rhodes’ miserable record against the Royals continued as he glanced Morgan Fox’s cross off target in the dying minutes.

The striker has now faced Reading more often than any other Football League side without finding the net (eight matches).

“We had two or three good situations where we should have scored,” conceded Carvalhal. “Lucas had a big chance.

“Reading have dangerous players and so do we. They are very fast on the counter-attack so we had to balance and protect our goal.

“I think the score was fair. The game was very divided. They had more chances in the first half. We were more threatening than them in the second.

“We had our chances in two or three situations and if we had scored one it would have maybe changed the game.

“When a game is very tactical and there are no goals, I understand it is not very good to look at.”

FAIR PLAY TO FANS

Many of the 3,000-plus travelling fans stayed behind to clap the Owls off at the end. The players tried to play more on the front foot in the second half and take the game to Reading and that’s all the supporters ask for.

In the first period, there was no sense of adventure or purpose whatsoever.

The fact is, Wednesday are even further away now, points wise, from the top six than they were before the international break. And if they don’t lift their level of performance pretty quickly, that gap will only get bigger.

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