Reading missed the chance to move top of the Championship as they were held to a draw at 10-man Sheffield Wednesday.
Callum Paterson headed the relegation-threatened hosts into an early lead but they were set for a struggle when teenager Liam Shaw was shown a straight red card on the half-hour mark, a fifth dismissal in nine matches for the team.
Lucas Joao scored his 13th goal of the season against his former side to level things before the break, but Reading struggled to create chances in the second half and had several penalty appeals waved away.
Story of the match
All eyes were on Joao, who returned to the ground that he played at for four years. He wouldn’t have expected many chances against a Tony Pulis-coached team, yet had a fantastic one just six minutes in as Michael Olise threaded a delightful through-ball only for Joao to fire wide.
Reading had dominated possession from the start, but Wednesday’s first chance brought only the second goal of the Pulis era. Adam Reach delivered the cross from the left wing and Paterson headed back across goal, into the ground and into the net.
That was just a second goal for the club for Paterson, and he quickly had a chance to grab a third as another cross, this time from the opposite side and Liam Palmer, came his way but was nodded wide.
Reading still threatened though, notably when Olise hit a sweet free kick which cannoned off the post. Considering the danger posed by their visitors, what Wednesday didn’t need in their defence of the lead was a familiar failing biting them on the backside, but bite it did.
This latest red card was shown to Shaw, making only the fourth Championship start of his career. It was a challenge that showed inexperience rather than malice, but the scissor action could have done serious damage to Omar Richards and referee Oliver Langford ordered the 19-year-old off.
Now the home side were up against it, but they showed their battling spirit with two heroic interventions. First goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith made two close-range saves, keeping out Joao’s clever flick at the near post and spectacularly palming Alfa Semedo's shot over the bar, and then Reach was back on the line to clear a Richards effort across goal despite the presence of Joao.
But Reading’s top scorer if nothing if not persistent, and he finally got the goal a minute before the break. Richards was fouled on the byline by Kadeem Harris, and Ovie Ejaria chipped the set piece onto the head of the striker who couldn’t be denied this time.
The tide had turned decisively and Pulis responded at the break with three substitutions to shore his team up. Combined with an even greater defensive approach, it stemmed the flow of Reading pressure and the away side came no closer to scoring in the next quarter of the match than an Olise free kick sailing narrowly over the bar.
Veljko Paunovic’s side persisted with their admirable attempts to pass their way through, but struggled to penetrate a penalty box often containing every Owl bar one. A ricochet on a cross almost presented substitute Sone Aluko with the chance they had been waiting for, but Wildsmith punched it off his boot before denying Ejaria from the edge of the box a minute later.
Josh Laurent was the man in the thick of the action in their final, desperate attempts to get the win. His shot was blocked by Reach with vociferous claims for a handball which were waved away, as were more penalty shouts when he went down in the box moments later under pressure from Elias Kachunga. He also had the final shot on the break in injury time, but there would be no winning goal.
Defiance after red mist
If Sheffield Wednesday’s draws against Swansea City and Stoke City in the previous two games could be described as laboured to varying degrees, this one can be considered a very well-earned point.
That was because, once again, they had to do things the hard way. Shaw can have no complaints with the red card for his foolish challenge, and it would be easy to dismiss the dismissal as a case of a young player showing his inexperience in a rash, reckless moment, if not for the fact Wednesday have received five red cards in less than six weeks.
It was already an identifiable trait in the squad before Garry Monk made way for Pulis, and the new man has yet to get a grasp on it. After one poor and very unnecessary foul saw Josh Windass ordered off in his first game at Preston North End, Shaw was culpable in precisely the same manner with another challenge in midfield, in the absence of any immediate danger, putting the team up against it.
The spell from Shaw’s red card to half-time was a difficult one as, for the first time under Pulis, they struggled to find answers to the questions being posed by sustained pressure. They were fortunate to remain level at the break, when the boss was able to re-organise with the help of no fewer than three substitutions.
From there it was back to normal service as far as Pulis would be concerned, with their organisation spot-on to deny Reading many opportunities beyond some big penalty shouts. Speaking of which…
There were plenty of big decisions for Langford to make as, after his decisive guilty verdict on Shaw, he was thrust further into the spotlight in the second half.
First came Moses Odubajo’s tangle with Richards, who got ahead of his man on a run towards goal. The defender is beaten for position and does come across, though the amount of contact to send him sprawling to the ground is less clear.
It would have been harsher to award the second claim, when Sam Baldock gets to a hanging ball in the air before Julian Borner does. The margins are very tight and it is understandable with nature of this one why the referee would not be convinced enough to award it.
The biggest appeal of all was for the Laurent shot blocked by Reach. At first viewing it looked a penalty and no replay could show any different. It certainly wasn’t deliberate, so it’s a decision that is often made by the lottery of the official’s interpretation on the day.
The final contentious call might be the closest of them all. Laurent again is involved, going down under pressure from Kachunga. The defender is grappling him for at least three seconds, but Laurent in turn has a grab of Kachunga's shirt and that is all the referee sees.
Reading needed only one of those decisions to go their way and they would almost certainly be top of the Championship table for the next few days. It is two points disappointingly dropped, but their performance on the whole should give plenty of reasons to believe they can be the real deal this season.
Man of the match: Adam Reach (Sheff Wed)
Tom Lees and Borner did well at the heart of the Sheffield Wednesday defence, as did Wildsmith behind them, but Reach was also excellent as both midfielder and full-back. He also came up with big moments at both ends, providing Paterson’s opener and clearing off his own line.