Sheffield Wednesday 0 Reading 2: Owls' woes continue after Al Habsi's stunning displ
Yann Kermorgant’s first-half strike and a breakaway goal from Adrian Popa deep into stoppage-time combined to settle an absorbing contest in the Royals’ favour and leave the Owls looking horribly vulnerable in the race for the play-offs.
Should Fulham avoid defeat at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers today then Wednesday will spend the international break sitting outside the top six.
And if Preston North End can also beat struggling Blackburn Rovers in the lunchtime kick-off then the South Yorkshire club will have the added worry of Simon Grayson’s side breathing down their necks.
It is a worrying state of affairs, not least because results are turning against head coach Carvalhal’s men at just the wrong time.
Wednesday’s fourth defeat in six outings came despite the home side creating the lion’s share of the chances and ending the game with Carvalhal having firmly thrown caution to the wind.
Three strikers and three wingers being on the field in the closing stages underlined the Portuguese’s desperation to salvage something from a fixture that may well prove pivotal for both clubs’ respective hopes of reaching the Premier League.
It made for a frantic finale, but such feckless adventure proved to no avail on a wet and cold night thanks to a stunning display by Ali Al Habsi in the visitors’ goal.
Time and time again, the Oman international kept the Owls at bay to secure a victory that lifts Jaap Stam’s side above Leeds United in the table ahead of Brighton’s visit to Elland Road.
The contest was a good one, pitting together two sides who had suffered a slump in form since winter had given way to Spring.
Reading, beaten twice in the West Riding this season, completed a hat-trick of victories in South Yorkshire with a classic smash- and-grab raid courtesy of incisive attacking play at vital times.
Kermorgant’s opener on 13 minutes epitomised this, as the home side were caught out by a delightful sweeping pass from former Rotherham United loanee John Swift.
He found his French team-mate wide on the right and totally unmarked thanks to Morgan Fox being out of position. A quick dart inside and the Owls had been sufficiently opened up for Kieren Westwood to be given no chance by a drilled low shot.
Wednesday’s response was impressive, the hosts carving out several decent opportunities during a first half played out almost exclusively in the visitors’ half.
Fox almost made up for his poor positional play for the opener with a shot that crashed against a post.
Sam Winnall also brought a flying save from Al Habsi, whose reflex stop towards the end of the first half to keep out Jordan Rhodes’s close range header was of the highest order.
Wednesday initially found chances harder to come by after the break, but that all changed in the final quarter.
First, Callum McManaman fired a shot goalwards that Liam Moore blocked bravely before Will Buckley brought a fine reflex save from Al Habsi.
Buckley then twice went agonisingly close to finding an equaliser, his first effort flashing across goal with Rhodes unable to apply the final touch and then Al Habsi somehow blocking his header.
With Reading pinned back, further opportunities came and went as Rhodes dragged a shot wide and McManaman unleashed a ferocious shot that Al Habsi again kept out with a stunning block.
The value of the Royals goalkeeper’s performance was then underlined in the final minute of stoppage-time.
With Westwood having joined the attack for a corner, a hacked clearance suddenly meant the home side were caught upfield and Popa did the rest by running the ball into an unguarded net.
It meant further disappointment for an Owls side who have spent just four days outside the play-off places since the week before Christmas.
Whether that changes today remains to be seen, but there will be plenty of fingers crossed in S6 that Wolves and Blackburn can do Carvalhal’s men a big favour.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood; Hunt, Lees, Loovens (Nuhiu 89), Fox; Buckley, Jones (McManaman 60), Bannan, Reach; Winnall (Fletcher 78), Rhodes. Unused substitutes: Wildsmith, Palmer, Matias, Semedo, Nuhiu.
Reading: Al Habsi; Gunter, Obita, Blackett, Moore; Van den Berg, Williams, Swift (Oxford 90); McCleary (Popa 86), Kermorgant, Beerens (Grabban 62). Unused substitutes: Legg, Mendes, Meite, Watson.
Referee: G Eltringham (County Durham).