Wow! An exhilarating match against play-off rivals at Hillsborough ended in a string of heroic Ali Al Habsi saves, but an injury time finish came the Royals' way with the last kick of the game and Reading moved up to fourth with an extraordinary victory against Sheffield Wednesday.
Yann Kermorgant had handed the visitors the lead with a 13th minute strike that the Royals took into half-time, despite Wednesday hitting the woodwork late in the opening forty-five.
But Carlos Carvalhal's side threw everything at Reading in the second half and although Stam's side defended calmly and confidently for much of the second period, it took some unfathomable saves from Ali Al Habsi to hold Wednesdat at bay late on. And Adi Popa broke clear to pass the ball into an open net with the last kick of the game to spark celebrations on and off the pitch at the final whistle.
Royals boss Jaap Stam made three changes to his starting eleven, bringing in Roy Beerens, Danny Williams and Liam Moore for Lewis Grabban and injury absentees Paul McShane and Jordon Mutch. Academy goalkeeper George Legg was named as a substitute in place of the injured Anssi Jaakkola.
The early offerings came from the visiting side, with Danny Williams twice taking aim from outside the area – the first deflected wide and behind for a corner, the second swept over the crossbar by the Royals midfielder after good work from Garath McCleary down the right.
At the other end, Ali Al Habsi gathered in a header from Jordan Rhodes that was fed into the box by Barry Bannan on the Owls’ right. And soon after the Omani had to watch a tame Winnall header drop wide of his post.
But Jaap Stam’s side took the lead with 13 minutes played. John Swift played an early ball from midfield out to Yann Kermorgant in space on the right. The Frenchman cut inside his man and on the slide arrowed a low left-footed shot past Keiren Westwood and into the bottom left corner for 1-0.
Wednesday looked to retaliate immediately, Reach scurrying forward and fizzing a low left-footed effort of his own, harmlessly wide of the right post.
But the right upright came to the Royals’ rescue a little later when a speculative stab bobbled through a crowded box and cannoned into the base of the post.
On the half hour mark, Reach drilled over the bar as he connected with a knock down from Winnall in the Wednesday box.
It took an incredible save from Al Habsi to deny Rhodes with ten minutes of the half remaining. Reach was threaded through and his shot deflected off a Royals leg and kindly for Rhodes to head goalwards, but Al Habsi’s superb reactions allowed the Omani to reach behind him and shovel the ball wide with his right glove.
Half-time: Sheff Wed 0-1 Reading
Wednesday came out of the blocks fast at the start of the second half, Reach driving just wide and then Bannan’s inswinging free kick flicked inches wide at the near post.
Wednesday were trying to build the pressure and the home crowd were getting behind their players, but Reading were restricting their hosts to few chances in front of goal, protecting their lead well.
And Swift came a whisker away from scoring a second for the Royals, scuttling inside from the left wide of the Owls’ box and placing a shot across his body inches wide of the bottom left corner.
With a quarter of an hour remaining, substitute Callum McManaman thought he’d found the equaliser when a cross from the right was headed clear but it dropped kindly for the midfielder. He struck it first time but Liam Moore was back to hack the ball away from yards out as it headed towards the goal.
Westwood had to punch a dangerous inswinging corner from the Royals as we entered the final ten minutes and McCleary’s follow-up strike was calmly intercepted by a Wednesday body.
Another Owls substitute came close with seven minutes left, Fletcher sent a scuffed effort towards goal and it looped up off the body of Blackett and landed on the roof of the net for a corner.
That sparked a five minute spell which saw Ali Al Habsi heroics save the Royals four or five times in incredibly quick succession.
First he made a double stop, the second denying Will Buckley from close range and a narrow angle – the Omani finger-tipping the ball over his crossbar to Wednesday’s amazement.
Seconds later Al Habsi saved again, this time pushing a curling effort from the edge of the box wide of his left post and the follow up flashed across the goalline and away from the Reading area for a moment of respite.
Next, a corner was flung into the box and Al Habsi produced an unbelievable reaction save from a close range header to again thwart Carlos Carvalhal’s side.
Reading were hanging on somehow. And in injury time, Al Habsi saved us again. McManaman took aim with a powerful right-footed strike that was fizzing towards the Reading net until our Omani parried high to his left to push it wide.
Wednesday couldn’t believe it. And then with the last kick of the game, the Royals sealed victory. Breaking from a cleared Wednesday corner, substitute Adrian Popa burst clear and toed the ball past the last man who slid in in vain. Westwood was still tracking back from the opposite area where he had looked to make a telling difference from the Owls corner, so Popa was able to stroll through on goal and pass the ball into the back of the unguarded Owls net. 2-0. Game over. Phew! What a win.
Full-time: Sheff Wed 0-2 Reading
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood, Jones (McManaman 60), Reach, Winnall (Fletcher 78), Loovens (Nuhiu 89), Lees, Rhodes, Hunt, Buckley, Bannan, Fox.
Subs: Wildsmith, Palmer, Matias, Semedo.
Reading: Al-Habsi, Gunter, Obita, Moore, Blackett, Van den Berg, Swift (Oxford 90), Williams, McCleary (Popa 87), Beerens (Grabban 62), Kermorgant.
Subs: Legg, Watson, Meite, Mendes.
Yellow: Blackett, Obita
Goals: Kermorgant 13', Popa 90'