Match analysis: Sheffield Wednesday 0 Reading 2 - Pressure mounting on stuttering Owls
The anxiety and tension is growing around Hillsborough.
Wednesday are now looking nervously over their shoulder in the race to finish in the top-six after losing to rivals Reading.
Goals either side of half-time by Yann Kermorgant and substitute Adrian Popa helped the Royals move above Leeds United into fourth.
The result means Fulham can leapfrog Wednesday into the final play-off position if they beat Wolverhampton Wanderers today.
Reading were indebted to goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, who made a series of excellent saves in the closing stages as the Owls piled the pressure on.
Yet again, Wednesday were not ruthless enough when it mattered and they head into the two-week international break having triumphed just once in their last six outings.
In the battle of the two Thai-owned Championship clubs, Reading prevailed and are now five points clear of the Owls.
Wednesday head coach Carlos Carvalhal, fined £2,000 by the Football Association on Thursday for improper conduct after his touchline behaviour in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat at Aston Villa, made two enforced changes to his starting line-up. Tom Lees made his first start since January 31, having shrugged off a knee injury. He replaced the suspended Vincent Sasso at the heart of their rearguard.
With Ross Wallace sidelined by a knee problem, winger Will Buckley was also given a rare start.
Reading, who entered the contest having lost their previous three matches on the road without scoring, made a strong start with Yann Kermorgant beating the off-side trap and seeing his delicate lob comfortably gathered by Keiren Westwood before Danny Williams blazed over when well-placed.
But the hosts hit back immediately and Jordan Rhodes’ glancing header from Barry Bannan’s well-flighted cross forced Ali Al Habsi into action.
It was Reading who made the breakthrough, with Kermorgant claiming his 10th goal of the campaign. The French striker raced on to Jon Swift’s pass, cut in from the right flank and drilled a left foot shot into the bottom corner.
It is the first time Wednesday have conceded in eight successive matches in the second-tier since May 2014.
Moments later, there was a moving minute’s applause for teenage kickboxer Scott Marsden, who died after a fight last weekend.
It was another sluggish start by Wednesday but they upped their game as the half wore on.
Winnall neatly chested down a Rhodes flick and tried his luck from long range but Al Habsi dived to his right to thwart the striker.
Morgan Fox came agonisingly close to levelling things up in the 23rd minute when he took aim from outside of the penalty area on for his drive to hit the post and bounce to safety.
The home fans were left fuming with referee Geoff Eltringham after he elected to issue just a yellow card to Tyler Blackett after he upended Rhodes near Carvalhal’s technical area. Wednesdayites booed the decision and Blackett received plenty of flak following the incident.
Reach flashed a shot over the top as Reading dropped deeper and deeper to defend their one-goal advantage.
When called upon, Al Habsi came to the Royals rescue and the Oman international produced a stunning save to turn away Rhodes’ deft header.
Wednesday sorely missed Fernando Forestieri’s creativity in the final third and Sam Hutchinson’s bite in the middle of the park.
A chorus of boos greeted the half-time whistle but Carvalhal resisted to make any personnel changes at the interval.
For all their possession, Reading did little with it.
The Owls showed far more adventure but their end product repeatedly let them down. Reach dragged wide when he should have done better and Rhodes’ flick at the neat post from a low Bannan free-kick went wide.
The rain continued to fall and Wednesday continued to fluff their lines in front of goal as Rhodes rose highest to meet Bannan’s corner but his header went straight at Al Habsi.
Reading threatened to extend their lead in the 70th minute when John Swift glided past several Wednesday defenders before scuffing a right foot attempt wide.
It took a superb block by Liam Moore to clear away substitute Callum McManaman’s goalbound drive to add to the frustration inside S6.
As the hosts committed more and more bodies forward, they left gaps open on the break and Reading nearly exploited their lack of defensive cover when Kermorgant shrugged off the attentions of Fox out wide and flashed a low delivery across the face of goal.
The Owls tried the direct approach and Steven Fletcher’s piledriver flew over after taking a big deflection off Blackett. From the resulting corner, Al Habsi pulled off a stunning save to keep Buckley at bay.
Carvalhal’s side piled on the pressure in the dying minutes but Al Habsi was in inspired form in between the sticks.
McManaman was thwarted by the Royals shot-stopper and the loose ball fell to Buckley, who fizzed in a low cross which some how evaded Rhodes.
It just would not go in for Wednesday and Al Habsi made another fine save to keep out Buckley’s header after Reading failed to deal with a corner.
Al Habsi palmed away McManaman’s fierce shot in added on time and the Owls threw everybody forward, including Westwood, in search of a leveller.
But Reading picked them off on the counter attack and substitute Popa ran the ball into an empty net.
Owls: Westwood; Hunt, Lees, Loovens (Nuhiu 89), Fox; Buckley, Jones (McManaman 60), Bannan, Reach; Winnall (Fletcher 78), Rhodes. Substitutes: Wildsmith, Palmer, Semedo, Matias.
Reading: Al Habsi; Gunter, Moore, Blackett, Obita; Van den Berg, Williams, Swift (Oxford 90); McCleary (Popa 87), Beerens (Grabban 62), Kermorgant. Substitutes: Legg, Watson, Meite, Mendes.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham (Co. Durham)