After battling through roadworks and endless traffic jams, a hearty band of Royals fans eventually made it to Hillsborough and settled down to watch Wednesday on Wednesday and most significantly see if the Royals' season could get a well needed boost. After a dull draw with Leeds we called for width. The sight of Tarique Fosu on the bench raised some spirits, but if anything Reading set up even more narrowly than Sunday as Steve Clarke opted for two changes, Andrew Taylor possibly surprisingly replacing Jordan Obita at left back and Aaron Tshibola starting in place of Nick Blackman - allowing Reading a midfield diamond with Orlando Sa and Hal Robson-Kanu up front. Still no wingers to be seen.
Reading, looking striking in their African Violet, settled into the game much quicker than their hosts and although chances were few and far between in the first 20 minutes, the Royals controlled possession and won a number of free kicks - the most notable resulted in a rasping shot from Ollie Norwood which flashed wide of the post. It seemed as if the Royals were continuing as they left off from Sunday, neat triangles in the middle but no threat of an end product. Although differently to the Madejski on Sunday the 4-4-2 formation was certainly giving a little more support to Sa, who looked strong in holding up play and even Robson Kanu's movement and link up with the midfield showed signs of encouragement. But still no chances.
As the half wore on, the midfield resembled similar congestion to the M69 with occasional bursts forward from Danny Williams seemingly Reading's best chance of a breakthrough. But as has been said so many times in the Clarke era still no chances created and this infamous lack of width, so talked about already this season, was obvious for all to see. However, whilst Reading huffed and puffed with a handful of corners resulting in very little at one end the other was rarely tested, a few long balls into the box snuffed out by the impressive McShane.
The only blip on a fine defensive first half performance was a poor clearance from goalkeeper Bond which Wednesday were unable to capitalise on. As the half drew to a close the loudest reaction from the crowd came in a chorus of groans when the fourth official raised 2 minutes of injury time to be played. Nonetheless, the referee eventually put the crowd out of their misery and blew for half time. A poor first 45 just shaded by the away side but without testing Lewis Price in the Wednesday goal.
Clearly Steve Clarke could not have been happy with his side's first half performance and his charges came out all guns blazing. It took just a minute into the second period for Sa to force a save from Price, who parried straight to Robson-Kanu who should have done better than smashing the rebound over the bar. One of those nights? It certainly seemed that it might be the case, but Reading kept pressing and got their reward almost immediately after as neat play between Robson-Kanu and his strike partner saw the Portuguese striker power his way into the box and find Danny Williams at the back post who, unmarked, smashed the ball beyond the helpless Price. A good finish and some neat play from Sa and Robson-Kanu in the build-up. Also, evidence of the need of width - Williams not a natural winger had ghosted to the back post alone and had finally given something for the travelling faithful to cheer. The goal seemed just what the doctor ordered as confidence seared through the away side. Waves of attacks followed as Sa should have done better with a free header a few moments later and Norwood had another free kick saved. Nonetheless it was all one way and if anyone was to score again it must be the royals.
As with the first half, Reading looked more than comfortable defensively, McShane in particular marshalled the back line extremely well, but both Taylor and Ferdinand made good challenges to snuff out limited Wednesday forays. Although it was just a one goal lead most of the travelling support seemed very comfortable as Wednesday had still yet to test Bond with anything other than crosses pumped into the box. Despite this solidity, Reading began to sink deeper and deeper towards their own goal and one might question the curious substitutions made by Clarke as the half wore on. Obita's replacement of Taylor was fairly unsurprising but the decision to replace both Sa and Robson-Kanu on 80 minutes with Hector and Blackman did raise a few eyebrows.
Almost immediately Reading stopped doing what they had done so well in the first 30 minutes of the second half and instead of stroking the ball around neatly in midfield and bringing the strikers into play, they began to panic and seemed intent on seeing out the remainder of the game by smashing long balls to the isolated Blackman. More and more pressure fell on the Reading goal and the inevitable came in the 90th minute when Bond came a mile off his line to drop the ball at the feet of Modou Sougou who promptly accepted the gift and scored with Wednesday's first shot on target. Royals deflated and Wednesday rampant. The home side sensed a winner but despite a couple of speculative balls into the box didn't test the keeper again as the game finished an extremely disappointing 1-1 draw.
Frankly, a bitter pill to swallow. Without a doubt this was two points dropped for Reading in a result which feels much more like a defeat that a draw. You have to feel that this was damaging to Royals and Steve Clarke in a number of ways; does he still have faith in his keeper? Does he have too many central midfielders? When will we get a win? Jonathan Bond will take the blame for the goal as it was an odd decision for him to come so far to claim a ball that wasn't his. However, Reading were absolutely cruising before that mistake and Clarke's negative substitutions stifled Reading's flow and forced them to drop further and further back. On the positives, Sa and Robson-Kanu linked up well in the second half and there must have been a combined sigh of relief from the Sheffield Wednesday back four when they were both withdrawn.
Clarke also shouldn't feel compelled to bring Michael Hector on if he doesn't start - although a very promising talent Hector's introduction changed the shape of the team and forced much more pressure on the back five. Maybe this is a tad unfair but it seemed that he was being ‘fitted in' rather than this being a necessary tactical move. Ultimately, Wednesday will be delighted to have nicked a point and Reading will be hugely deflated. We all hope that the likes of McCleary, Hurtado, Fernandez and Pogrebnyak will help to remedy a lack of end product and their return to first team action cannot come soon enough. However, immaterial of all this, there will be few games this season where Reading will be so untested for 90 minutes to not take all 3 points. I just hope that we don't look back and wish we had two more points at the end of the season. Absolutely criminal.