Things were going pretty well at Reading. You could see Darren Moore’s style of play already starting to come to the fore as the Owls passed it out of the back and looked comfortable in possession and tidy on the ball.
The Royals are a good side, they’re not fifth by accident, and Wednesday were more than holding their own. Who knows what might have happened if Tom Lees’ header had gone under the crossbar instead of onto it?
But then, implosion.
Julian Börner’s loose pass sold Sam Hutchinson short, and he didn’t have the pace to stop George Puscas from baring down on Joe Wildsmith’s goal. Well, not legally anyway.
Up stepped Michael Olise to fire home from the spot after the German was given his marching orders, and you could probably have called the game there and then. Other than the inevitability of Lucas Joao getting in on the action.
Darren Moore knows all about great escapes, he was part of the 2004/05 West Bromwich Albion squad that defied the ‘Bottom At Christmas Rule’ to stay in the Premier League, but it feels like he’ll have to go full Harry Houdini to get the Owls out of this one now.
Here’s some talking points:
The pass, the penalty, the red, the shirt
Moore called it an ‘elementary miscontrol’ when asked about the series of unfortunate events that led to Wednesday falling behind.
Like so many other decisive moments this season, it was a problem that was completely of their own making. It wasn’t because of any good Reading play, or a moment of brilliance from anybody, it was purely a Wednesday mistake that ultimately changed the entire course of the game.
It also means another suspension, the seventh that the Owls have had to deal with this season, meaning another change of personnel in the defence, and Börner’s Hulk-like tearing of his shirt after it happened would probably sum up the mood of plenty of those watching on – both from home and from the bench.
One person who was also heavily affected by the red card was Owls skipper, Barry Bannan, who was sacrificed not long afterwards.
The decision was made for structural reasons, which adds up in the sense that his role behind the striker doesn’t affect the two banks for four that they needed to try and stay in the game.
But what was surprising is that arguably the club’s best player, the one best at keeping possession, was sacrificed in a game where his bit of creativity – you would have thought – would be key to at least trying to make a go of it.
Moore told the media afterwards, “He understands… He’s obviously disappointed to lose a player. It disrupts the game plan and it’s a difficult one to do. But you understand sometimes you face adversity and make a decision.”
He was quick to point out that Bannan will have a huge role to play for the rest of the season, but having recently signed a new contract the midfielder will be hoping there isn’t more need to have him on the bench in games to come.
If ever a freekick summed up a season
It was one of those ‘if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry’ moments… Sitting up in the stands it looked as though Josh Windass’ freekick – which was in a good position by the way – just hit the wall and was a wasted opportunity.
But looking at the replay afterwards, that wasn’t quite the case was it?
Oh no, it wasn’t. What actually happened was that Windass smashed his – hard hit – free kick right into Callum Paterson’s midriff.
It’s tough to tell what would have happened if Pato wasn’t there. Who knows if it was going in, but the imagery of the forward keeled off because of friendly fire in the opposition box was almost a perfect summary of what it’s been like to follow the Owls this season.
A Great Escape
It’s far from over, obviously. There are still 12 matches left and 36 points to play for, results this week – as well as Rotherham United’s increasingly heavy schedule – means that the Owls are still in with a fighting chance.
But their run-in doesn’t look good, and they’re also in the midst of their worst run of defeats in almost a decade. They lost seven on the bounce in 2012, and with six in a row now they’re just three losses away from setting a new club record of consecutive defeats.
And it’s not just the points anymore, either. After the 3-0 drubbing at Reading, Wednesday are now second to just Wycombe Wanderers in terms of their goal difference (-19), meaning that – as things stand – even clawing back the seven points on 21st-placed Birmingham City won’t be enough to go above them.
Oh the apathy
Usually after a Wednesday defeat you can – if you’re inclined – check out the #SWFC hashtag and feel the anger and disappointment that so many fans are going through. But with every passing defeat, that gets less and less.
The fact now is that so many fans are just resigned to the fact that the club will be in League One next season, and worse, aren’t even that bothered about what happens anymore – at least for the time being.
At least anger is a feeling, and shows somebody cares, as does pain and disappointment. But the indifference surrounding Wednesday right now is more dangerous long-term than anything that happens on the field, and if the Owls go down without a fight – and without fans in the stadium – then you have to wonder how many will return to Hillsborough next season.