Sheffield Wednesday’s fine run of form under Stuart Gray continued on Saturday afternoon, with the Owls recording a comfortable 2-0 victory over 10-man Reading at the Madejski Stadium.
Wednesday – who beat the Royals 5-2 back in November in what was only their first win of the campaign – were comfortable victors thanks to goals in either half from Chris Maguire and Benik Afobe.
Reading initially made a bright start, with Adam Le Fondre bursting through only to see Chris Kirkland smother the ball at his feet. Pavel Pogrebnyak was next to test Wednesday’s backline, with the Russian sent clear after a long ball from Pearce.
Unfortunately for the hosts, however, he wasn’t able to get enough power in his prodded effort that was eventually cleared off the line.
Wednesday’s first chance came after seven minutes, with Arsenal loanee Afobe – who won the Championship title with Reading during a similar stint at the Madejski two seasons ago – trying his luck with a goalbound effort that was deflected wide.
Gray’s side were looking a threat on the break, with the lone figure of Afobe being supported well by the trio of Jaques Maghoma, Chris Maguire and Jeremy Helan.
Reading’s defence looked uncomfortable with the threat posed by their former teammate, a fact clearly evidenced when Alex Pearce tugged down the striker inside the box with just nine minutes played.
Much to the anger of the home crowd, Pearce was sent off for the offence and Chris Maguire emphatically dispatched the resulting spotkick past the despairing dive of Alex McCarthy for his sixth goal of the season.
Despite Reading having been reduced to 10 men, the rest of the first half was a relatively open affair, with Maghoma seeing a tame shot saved comfortably by McCarthy and Chris Gunter producing a fabulous block to deny Kieran Lee.
The Royals, who had shifted Gunter over to centre-back and Garath McCleary back into right-back to cover for the absent Pearce, were beginning to struggle with a rather sizeable gap developing between midfield and attack but went close on the half-hour mark when a marauding run from Danny Williams ended with captain Jobi McAnuff hitting a first-time volley wide of Kirkland’s left-hand post.
Pogrebnyak, who has been a catalyst for Reading’s recent good form in which they had notched 15 goals in just four league games, struck a fierce effort three minutes later that went harmlessly wide.
The game settled down somewhat during the final ten-minute spell before the break, with only a minor scuffle between Jordan Obita and goalscorer Maguire – for which the latter was booked – a particular talking point.
That is until stoppage time, when Afobe again proved his quality with a rasping effort that rattled the crossbar after Reading defender Kaspars Gorkss had conceded possession cheaply just inside his own half.
Wednesday, evidently keen to exercise their numerical advantage, made a fast start to the second half, with substitute Michail Antonio – who scored against his former club in that 5-2 rout at Hillsborough – seeing his shot magnificently pushed over the top by McCarthy from point-blank range. Maguire fired over in plenty of space from the resulting corner.
The Owls were looking exceedingly comfortable now and went further ahead after 58 minutes. McCarthy spilled a Maguire effort into the path of Afobe, who made no mistake with an easy finish.
With Reading reeling, Wednesday should have gone 3-0 up, but Helan could only hit the crossbar with a vicious strike from the left-hand side of the penalty area.
Adkins’ men never really threatened Kirkland’s goal after the break and never appeared as if they were poised to mount an unlikely comeback.
Danny Guthrie, Hal Robson-Kanu and Nick Blackman were all introduced in an effort to give Reading a foothold back in the game, but it was Wednesday substitute Atdhe Nuhia who almost put the game further out of reach after scuffing an effort wide from inside the six-yard box with nine minutes of normal time remaining.
Nuhiu went close again in added time, shimmying his way past Gunter before shooting straight at the onrushing McCarthy. Maghoma also could have added further gloss to the scoreline, but lost composure at the vital moment to lash his shot wide after a strong run into the box.
There was to be no late comeback from a disheartened Reading, and Wednesday – who are now unbeaten in 11 games in all competitions – can only be disappointed that they did not score more.