AS the clock on the giant screen in the corner of the Madejski Stadium ticked down slowly towards the new season, a banner sporting the familiar face of David Brent suddenly appeared among the home fans behind one goal.
‘Guilty, I support Reading,’ read the inscription alongside the lead character from iconic television show ‘The Office’.
The quote is from the Christmas finale in 2003, Brent responding to the accusation he knows nothing about football with an attempt at humour that, as usual, falls flat.
A couple of hours on from the unfurling, however, it was another utterance from Ricky Gervais’s most famous creation that came to mind.
“I suppose I’ve created an atmosphere where I’m a friend first and a boss second,” said the deluded Brent in the mockumentary. “Probably an entertainer third.”
Lee Bullen, in his third spell as caretaker manager of Sheffield Wednesday, bears no similarity to Brent in terms of character or anything else. Let’s make that clear from the start. He is, after all, 6ft 1in and built from Edinburgh stone.
But, if there is any firm conclusion that can be drawn from how the Scot has steadied things at Hillsborough since Steve Bruce’s departure, it is surely that the players like and respect him, just as you would a friend and boss.
Bullen also clearly wants to entertain, judging by how positive the Owls were in claiming just a third win in 15 attempts when starting a campaign on the road.
Right from the very first seconds, Wednesday were determined to take the game to Reading.
Home defenders, on receiving the ball at their feet, were immediately closed down by a green shirt as a side set up in a 4-3-3 formation looked to stamp an early mark on proceedings.
Bullen had also clearly instructed his two pacey debutants, Kadeem Harris and Moses Odubajo, to run at the Royals’ back-line.
The ploy worked a treat, Harris netting the opening goal with a typically jet-heeled charge down the left as Odubajo got forward as much as possible in support of Adam Reach on the opposite flank.
One of the main beneficiaries of Wednesday possessing genuine pace out wide for the first time since Jermaine Johnson and Michael Antonio left in 2014 was Barry Bannan, who could look either way for an outlet when the ball was at his feet.
“It was a massive blow when Steve Bruce left,” said the Scottish midfielder. “The club was getting to where we wanted it to be again with all of us going in the same direction.
“But ‘Bully’ has come in and done brilliantly every day during a hard time. He knows the boys really well and he knows the club because he has been here for a while.
“It is not for me to decide on the next man to take us forward. That is for the chairman and the people around him. But ‘Bully’ has done himself no harm.”
Wednesday’s first opening day win on the road since 2014 was not without its worrying moments.
Twice in the first half, Reading had strong appeals for a penalty turned down as, first, Tom Lees seemed to use his arm to block Andy Yiadom’s shot on the line and then Steven Fletcher jumped too early for an aerial tussle and ended up using Matt Miazga as leverage.
But, overall, the visitors were full value for the three points. Bannan pulled the strings in midfield alongside birthday boy Sam Hutchinson and Kieran Lee.
The trio made good use of having that pace out wide, ensuring Reading’s backline was kept on its toes.
Yiadom bore much of the workload, the former Barnsley full-back unfortunate to come up against a fired-up Harris.
The summer arrival from Cardiff City had already breezed past Yiadom and brought a fine save from Joao Virginia by the time he broke the deadlock on the half-hour.
Again, the Royals full-back was left trailing along with Luke Moore as Harris raced into the area before beating Virginia with ease. Bullen, a former member of the full-backs club, had sympathy for Yiadom. “I know how difficult it is against pace,” said the Owls chief with a smile. “Do you get tight? But then the ball goes over the top of you? Do you give him a couple of yards? It is very, very difficult.
“If I am playing against someone like Kadeem, I am taking a yellow card in the first 10 minutes by leaving a little bit of a straightener on him. Just to let him know I am in the game – and then walking on eggshells after that.”
Harris also played a part in Wednesday’s second goal on 56 minutes. He intelligently found Fletcher, whose effort from 10 yards was heading in until Miazga turned the ball behind.
Bannan’s resulting corner found Hutchinson, whose bullet-header flew into the net. The Slough-born midfielder’s first goal in almost two years was the perfect response to Reading having equalised two minutes earlier through a looping header from Yakou Meite.
Goalkeeper Keiren Westwood’s red card for fouling Mo Barrow ensured a nervy finale until Lucas Joao, on as a substitute, settled matters with a sublime finish deep into stoppage-time before embarking on a little dance of delight in front of the away seats that would surely have drawn the approval of nearby Slough’s self-styled ‘Brentmeister General’.
Good day: Kadeem Harris
The debutant visibly tired in the final quarter, leading to his substitution. But the jet-heeled Harris still announced himself to Wednesday fans with a first-half goal and a key role in the move that led to the second.
Bad day: Andy Yiadom
Simply could not handle Harris. No slouch in the pace stakes, as Barnsley fans will readily attest, the full-back suffered all manner of troubles in defence.
Key moment: ‘96th-minute’
With the Owls down to 10 men following Keiren Westwood, Reading fancied their chances of snatching a dramatic equaliser until Lucas Joao killed off the home side with a fine finish.
Ref watch: James Linington
Infuriated Royals by rejecting two first-half penalty appeals. They had a case with the handball, Tom Lees looking to have handled on the line. Rightly dismissed Keiren Westwood for upending Mo Barrow outside the area.
Wednesday were made to sweat in closing exchanges after being reduced to 10 men but this was a fully merited win. The addition of pace to the quality that Barry Bannan, Sam Hutchinson et al bring could be a potent mix.
Sheffield Wednesday v Barnsley; Saturday, Championship, 3pm.
Olise* (65) 6
Adam** (65) 6
Novakovich*** (85) -
Joao* (78) -
Forestieri** (78) -
Dawson*** (81) -