RAMBLE: Wednesday -v- Reading

RAMBLE: Wednesday -v- Reading

On Saturday morning, before the game, I was already scripting the opening remarks of this ramble.

It would have read something like an apology, a grovelling repentance penned with the intention of re-assuring you that the ‘curse of Hillsborough’ would never set foot near S6 again.

My brother last had a season ticket in the terrible 2009-10 season which saw us relegated under Alan Irvine. Since then, he has seen several fixtures, home and away – all defeats, with the exception of the recent Millwall game which saw the Owls concede a last minute equaliser. He’s seen us break winning runs and even came to the abandoned Wigan game last season.

I’m not the superstitious type in any way, but quite frankly this trend was starting to piss me off!

In short then, I wasn’t too confident. The ‘big-crowd’ myth had many others uneasy too, until someone actually pointed out that our last 10 games in front of 30,000 fans had an unbeaten record, with six wins.

Reading are a good side and are seemingly perpetual contenders at this level. Stuart Gray revealed this week that he’d tried to sign both Glenn Murray and Simon Cox this summer – in the often painful world of Wednesday, this made them prime candidates for first goalscorer markets.

The team spirit amongst the squad has often been cited as key to the Owls' start

The team spirit amongst the squad has often been cited as key to the Owls’ start

Wednesday are a good side too. Before the game, we lay in 8th place on merit. I was looking forward to what should have been an entertaining, flowing game of football typical of the Championships better sides – high pressing, pass-and-move football, later becoming a stretched affair as tired legs take their toll.

This should have been the case.

Three weeks ago in my Nottingham Forest ramble, I put forward a staunch defence of referees, or at least the referee on the day.

On this occasion, Mr Heywood and his assistants gave a display that ranks amongst the worst I have seen in the Football League. If we take our Wednesday hats off for a while and look at the game objectively, the verdict becomes even worse. More on their terrible afternoon later.

Wednesday went into this one unchanged from the midweek win at Birmingham and looked to set off well in front of the bumper crowd. It was Reading who started the brighter, with Murray seeing a shot deflected wide from which gangly centre-half Jake Cooper headed over.

The Owls missed a trick in targeting Reading academy product Cooper, who looked unsure on the ball in the first five minutes.

Wednesday were pushed back by Reading who’s pressing was impressive and effective, giving our centre halves time on the ball while doubling up on our midfield. For the first half at least, our recent good football was only seen in small patches, as our central midfield looked lost with the ball and Atdhe Nuhiu was marked out of the game and well screened by the Reading midfield.

Our best early chance fell to Stevie May, who was fed by Maghoma on the break but screwed his shot wide of the far post from the right hand side. The game was scrappy and stopped at every opportunity by referee Heywood; little fouls were given when the advantage was available, May claimed elbows from Reading players on two occasions. This suited Reading who would not allow Wednesday to build up any sort of momentum.

Their two best chances of the half fell to Murray, the first he side footed wide when it looked easier to score; Blackman had dispossed Loovens who sat on the floor pleading with the referee as the game moved on, the ball was squared for the Palace loanee who screwed it wide.

The second came from the spot after he was brought to the ground by Giles Coke inside the box. A definite penalty (I’m sure Mr Heywood had blown before Murray touched the floor, such was his eagerness to point to the spot), and Coke was lucky to not receive a straight red for being last man. Consistency from referees is often called into question. Richard Dunne was sent off for less at Hillsborough last season. I’m not complaining.

Murray steps up…


A great cheer went up around three sides of Hillsborough who kept out a very poor penalty with his legs. Both the Kop and North Stand ran through the full repertoire as the ground saluted a new hero between the sticks. Westwood really has been superb since joining us from Sunderland and has already secured us multiple points this season.

Ireland's Number 1!

Ireland’s Number 1!

Wednesday looked to capitalise immediately, but failed to create a clear opportunity. A series of little fouls were given against both sides, and Mr Heywood appeared to have lost any control over the game in a farcical situation surrounding a Wednesday free-kick.

With Mattock and Maguire stood waiting, the referee moved the required ten yards but for some reason allowed Simon Cox to stand just in front of the ball. This naturally incensed the crowd, as well as Chris Maguire who threw Cox out of the way, only for a small argument to break out over, well, nothing. If only the referee could do his job in the first place and stamp his authority over all 22 players and management. Stop fannying about!

This was followed shortly after by a woeful decision to book Liam Palmer for a sliding challenge – which was more of a block than a clear tackle. If the referee had his view obstructed, the linesman had an perfect view as the incident was right on the line of Reading’s back four.

This had me wound up, which is no mean feat even where Wednesday are concerned. I’d moved from my usual seat to accommodate the curse of Hillsborough and sat next to a rather hefty chap, who gave me a sort of condescending look as this four-stone-wet-through individual let the linesman know how much of a ‘soft bastard’ he was. Fair enough.


A scrappy half,  to say the least. Reading had shaded it, creating the best opportunities and had also defended resolutely. Gray had to make changes, changes which were evident from the second half kick off.

Maguire took the ball, ran straight through the Reading midfield and won a corner. The Royals had shown us a great amount of respect during the first half, but in the second period Wednesday threw more bodies forward and pin Reading back. Why not?

Midfield general Semedo was superb in the second half

Midfield general Semedo was superb in the second half

How refreshing is it to have a manager who has a go? The amount of times we go into the final minutes with four forwards on the pitch trying (and often succeeding) to win a game is so much more enjoyable than sitting behind the game-line playing for a draw.

We really got at Reading in the second half and created more chances as a result. With both full-backs overlapping and putting good balls into the box, and Jose Semedo covering every blade we began to take the game in our hands. Semedo was just outstanding in the second half.

Atdhe Nuhiu came into the game too, winning most of his headers in the second half and generally giving Pearce and Cooper a good roughing up. Stevie May had another speculative effort from 25 yards after a slide-rule pass from Maghoma and lay-off from Nuhiu, this one had Mikkel Andersen beaten, but also just bounced past the post.

Reading also had chances, the better of them in fact – as Murray had a shot blocked by Nuhiu after a scramble, he also headed against the top corner of post and crossbar, while Kieren Westwood made another spectacular save from a point-blank Cooper header.

Hallam Hope and Jeremy Helan  were introduced and both played good cameo roles. Jacques Maghoma slotted into a central position as he did against Birmingham and again did fairly well. It wouldn’t be unfair to say we are currently weakest in midfield, but I looked at the four starting midfielders yesterday and enjoyed contemplating how far they’ve come on in twelve months. Despite an injury hit first year, Jacques Maghoma never looked anything more than a bit-part Sheffield Wednesday player.

Chris Maguire, who has not enjoyed a blistering start to the season, is another who came in from nowhere and had such a profound effect on the team last season. Semedo and Coke are two more who’ve been cast upon the scrapheap by previous manager(s) and Coke especially has enjoyed a terrific start (although he is starting to look a little lethargic).

The game entered the last ten minutes and was seemingly meandering towards another Hillsborough draw. A cross-field ball aimed for Atdhe Nuhiu is handled under pressure by Cooper, just outside the Kop end box. Joe Mattock’s poor effort in the first half ruled him out contention this time, and with Maguire subbed off, the chance fell to Stevie May.

‘So this is going in the wall, or maybe even Row F’, we were saying.

Deflected, and in.


May steps up...

May steps up…

This was such an enjoyable moment as the entire eleven went to celebrate with our now talismanic Scotsman under the Kop.

I was laughing and joking with those around having said how we’d tempt fate, suggesting the ball would end up anywhere but in the net.


A full Hillsborough celebrating is a sight to enjoy, and there was a particularly booming chorus of ‘Hark Now Hear’ to blow some of the cobwebs out of those usually vacant South Stand seats. Terrific stuff.

A frenetic end had everyone on edge, especially after both Palmer and Loovens failed to deal with a looping ball that saw Wednesday have to deal with more corners into the box. There was also a late appeal for handball against Loovens – Hillsborough would have gone mad had it been given, but we have seen them go both for and against us before.

There was a chance at the death for Hallam Hope to secure it, he somehow spooned the ball over the bar while under pressure after Semedo made a marauding run (!) down the Reading right.


Another explosion of noise greeted the final whistle, it seemed like everyone belted out ‘Singing the Blues’ – after all, we could now enjoy the final score in Wiltshire as Swindon 4-2 Blades is bloody useless to us at 0-0!

Wednesday went up to 6th with a battling result in a game where 0-0 would have been a fair reflection. Having said that, we played Bolton off the park and came away with just a point and should have beaten Millwall at home – we’re going very well indeed.

Kieren Westwood, Tom Lees and Stevie May all look like being terrific signings. We’ve already seen the best of the former two but I really believe that the young Scotsman can take his game further with us. He has all the attributes and is scoring goals without really being the best player on the pitch. Without wanting to add unnecessary pressure, he can be the 20-goal a season man we’ve been missing for so many years.

Stuart Gray can do no wrong!

Stuart Gray can do no wrong!

Stuart Gray deserves huge credit. But now he faces a new challenge. Teams will come to Hillsborough, as Reading did, and set up looking to frustrate us. His half-time teamtalk did the trick this week. Opposition teams will soon lock onto our strengths and work to nullify any width or the pass-and-move tactics we employ.

Other managers will be aware of the gushing praise that respected names such as Holloway, Pearce, McClaren and even The Secret Footballer himself have laid at the feet of Gray, Bullen and co. Let’s see if Mr Pellegrini has been listening.

OWLS ALIVE circliar yeller SPACE

Owls Alive
E-mail: admin@owlsalive.com

Twitter: @hugh_wragg and @OwlsAlive

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *