2-0, a clean sheet and a win away from home as Reading move up to 4th spot in the table. All but confirmed in the play-offs? Not quite, but tonight was a huge result for the Royals as they take three points back to Berkshire after triumphing at Hillsborough tonight.
Pre match, I have to admit that I was concerned. Blackett playing centre back against Rhodes who over the last 3-4 years had established himself as the divisions best striker. It felt like we were setting ourselves up for a battling point.
The team however seemed to settle into the game magnificently well however and started very brightly. My fears were somewhat allayed after the initial opening period as it appeared that having Joey van den Berg back in the squad on a more consistent basis has allowed Stam to go back to a 3 CB formation without actually needing to sacrifice a midfield player, because of how deep Joey plays. He settled into a good rhythm of dropping into the gap that Moore and Blackett made when we had the ball deep.
Comfortable first half
As stated, Reading opened up very brightly, and were on the front foot for much of the first 30 minutes or so. Reading played a number of long diagonal balls during the first half with both Obita and McCleary consistently finding good spots high up the field.
After 13 minutes, Swift played a long ball over the top to a rushing Yann Kermorgant who nodded the ball down on the corner of the penalty area. He tapped the ball inside and managed to coolly finish past Westwood with his left foot from around 15 yards. 1-0 to The Royals. His goal was just rewards for a very strong first half performance in which he hassled Wednesday high up the field either assisting, or winning the ball back himself a number of times.
It took Wednesday until 20 minutes to really get their first chance of the match, with an errant header by Moore cleared only to the edge of the box following a Wednesday cross from deep. Although surrounded, Fox managed to get a half volley away which bounced off the post. A few minutes later, Blackett clattered into Rhodes and picked up a yellow card. A worrying moment given the officiating was rather soft for both sides.
Sheffield Wednesday managed one more great chance before the break with a deflected shot from just inside the area seeing Al Habsi scramble down to his bottom right hand corner and tipping the ball around the post for a corner.
Reading looked comfortable despite these chances during the first half, with Williams and Swift having acres of space in central midfield and absolutely dominating the centre of the park during the first half. A 360 spin from Swift earned rapturous applause from the away end shortly before the end of the half and Reading went in comfortable, if not dominant.
Pressured second half
The second half was much more of a mirror of many Reading wins this season. Invite pressure. Despite this, the chances Wednesday were creating for the first 25 minutes of the half were half chances at best, with a few shots wide from both Winnall and Rhodes.
Obita was also booked for time wasting, an odd decision I thought, given that Wednesday don't seem to employ any ball boys. The howls of derision for Reading to hurry the game up were falling on deaf ears as the ball often spent time out of play as Wednesday continued to press down the Reading left looking for an equaliser.
Throughout the half, Wednesday got closer, with the last 10 minutes seeing them having numerous corners in a row, Al Habsi making 3 or 4 incredible stops to keep them at bay. If he doesn't win POTS, I'd be concerned for many fans eyesight and would advise a trip to Specsavers, quick sharp!
Wednesday ended up with 3 more corners during the four minutes of injury time, Westwood coming up for the final one. This one was cleared by Williams to Popa who only had 2 men to beat at the halfway line, before being chased down by Danny Williams as he rolled the ball into the net under the Hillsborough lights with the last kick of the match. 2-0 to Reading.
A season defined?
Tonight has been one of those 'season defining games' that people speak of. The games which if the season ends successfully people point at and say that's where it all came together.
To one for a man, the squad were excellent tonight (given a couple of quiet performances, however not to dwell on the negatives), and showed that they can compete with the teams around them. Wednesday on the other hand struggled with the pace of Reading during the first half and the resolve during the second, and must be beginning to worry that the wheels are falling off their season just too early.
Have Reading just confirmed their place in the play-offs? Probably not quite, but a win tonight was an absolutely giant step towards it.
Bring on more Wembley drama in May.