The Verdict: Two-goal Nuhiu puts smiles back on Sheffield Wednesday faces

IT MAY have been just under ten and a half months since these two sides previously convened at Hillsborough, but it has probably felt like an eternity for both sets of supporters.

Sheffield Wednesday's players celebrate their third goal against Reading. Picture: Steve Ellis

It is easy to forget that Sheffield Wednesday and Reading were dining among the Championship’s elite back on St Patrick’s Day 2017 and harboured realistic hopes of securing a Premier League ticket, but how times have changed.

Today these two play-off participants of 2016-17 are languishing next to each other in the bottom half of the table with the FA Cup representing a welcome distraction last night.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The meeting may not have assumed tie-of-the-round status, but the action will certainly be revisited with fondness by Wednesday and several of their cast on show.

Pride of place went to two-goal Atdhe Nuhiu, whose name is being sung again with gusto by Wednesdayities, with his zest and character starting to prove infectious in the post Carlos Carvalhal world.

He took his FA Cup tally to three goals in three matches this month and while the magic of the Cup may be increasingly open to rebuke in some quarters, the big striker certainly will not be having a bit of it.

Neither, you suspect, will George Boyd, who was afforded his first goal in Owls colours to seal victory just after the hour mark.

The limelight was shared with young goalkeeper Cameron Dawson, who made two outstanding saves in just his fifth outing for Wednesday when the game was still in the melting pot.

Sheffield Wednesday striker Atdhe Nuhiu nets his second goal of the evening to help beat Reading 3-1 at Hillsborough last night in the FA Cup (Picture: Steve Ellis).

His brilliant point-blank stop at his near post to deny Jon-Dadi Bodvarsson in the second half assumed a fair bit of importance, with Wednesday proceeding to go up the other end moments after to double their lead through Nuhiu’s second.

After demanding that his side show more single-mindedness in front of goal, a haul of three goals will have satisfied Jos Luhukay immensely, even if the Owls could have helped themselves to a few more late on.

But the healthy win at least keeps the Owls’ competitive fires burning this season, even if the Kop’s cries of ‘Wembley, Wembley’ were somewhat optimistic.

The sides made seven changes apiece and for swathes of the first half the fluidity on show came from those in fluorescent orange, only for one moment of Owls quality, in isolation, to prove telling.

TOP MAN: George Boyd celebrates his goal and Sheffield Wednesday's third. Picture: Steve Ellis

Approaching the half-hour mark, the home support needed rousing after a somnolent spell from Wednesday and a well-crafted and proficiently finished strike from Nuhiu provided it.

It was not without a hint of controversy, with Nuhiu peeling away from his marker and beating the offside flag after latching onto a perceptive through ball from Frederico Venancio and he coolly slid the ball low past Anssi Jaakkola.

The awarding of the goal infuriated the Royals’ bench, but they would have been equally well advised to rue their side’s wasteful finishing earlier. Reading failed to punish a sloppy Owls start, with Dawson showing alertness to race out early on to block Dave Edwards’s shot after he went clear when the hosts were dissected by Leandro Bacuno’s pass.

Virtually all the rhythm and movement came from Reading, with Yann Kermorgant failing to get a clean connection in front of goal following Bodvarsson’s cross.

Sheffield Wednesday striker Atdhe Nuhiu nets his second goal of the evening to help beat Reading 3-1 at Hillsborough last night in the FA Cup (Picture: Steve Ellis).

Ultimately, Wednesday showed ruthlessness when it mattered, with Nuhiu’s tidy finish visibly lifting the crowd too, Anssi Jaakola soon beating away Morgan Fox’s fierce drive.

Reading started the second half as they did the first, but once again their goalscoring radar was awry with Kermorgant firing straight at Dawson before the goalkeeper excelled himself to deny Bodvarsson twice.

Straightaway, Matias robbed Garath McCleary and his low cross was dispatched from close in by Nuhiu.

A precision curler from Bacuna soon struck the outside of a post before Boyd ghosted clear and benefited from some ponderous defending to drill the ball low past Jaakkola.

With Reading browbeaten and demoralised, it was now a question of how many the hosts could wrack up as the home support started to enjoy themselves.

Nuhiu, Boyd and an emboldened Matias went close as the Owls laid siege and booked their spot in the last 16 for just the second time in seven seasons with a hint of swagger.

TOP MAN: George Boyd celebrates his goal and Sheffield Wednesday's third. Picture: Steve Ellis

Reading struck a late consolation when a deflected cross from Mo Barrow struck a post, with the spinning loose ball eventually diverting in off the back of Dawson, with substitute Sam Smith not required as he hovered near by.

It dashed Luhukay’s hopes of a fourth successive clean sheet, but how he would have taken the scoreline ahead of kick-off.

Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson; Venancio, Loovens, Pudil (Palmer 63); Hunt, Boyd, Pelupessy, Reach (Jones 71), Fox; Matias (Rhodes 89), Nuhiu. Unused substitutes: Wildsmith, Butterfield, Joao, Wallace.

Reading: Jaakkola; Gunter, Moore, Ilori, Bacuna (Evans 79); McCleary (Barrow 66), Edwards, Beerens; Kermorgant (Smith 79), Bodvarsson. Unused substitutes: Mannone, Evans, Aluko, Blackett, Kelly.

Referee: J Brooks (Leicestershire).