Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Shane Long rewards manager's faith

Supersub Shane Long rewarded the Reading manager's faith with a crucial late winner at Sheffield Wednesday.

Hillsborough hero Long got the nod ahead of Leroy Lita on Tuesday night and the Irish youngster stepped off the bench to fired home in the 81st minute to complete a stunning fightback by Steve Coppell's men.

It was Reading's first away win since they turned over Birmingham City 3-1 at St Andrew's on December 20 and their first of any kind in five matches.

And Royals fans will be hoping this could be the result that will also reignite their flagging promotion campaign after weeks of disappointment.

Trailing to Sean McAllister's strike in first-half injury time, the visitors stormed back after the break and grabbed the cricual equaliser through Kevin Doyle before Long netted his fuorth of the season to secured the points and the headlines with the clock ticking down.

"Shane is a good player and for a couple of years now we have wanted to give him a real run in the team.

"But we're blessed with some good forwards and Shane is the best impact substitute I've got.

"He won't be happy to hear me say that, but we know something is going to happen when he comes on.

"Was it a fair result? I really don't know. It was very competitive and it could have gone either way. But we just edged it at the final whistle."

With just one point from three home games in February, Coppell was glad to see the back of a `disastrous' month that ended with defeats to Bristol City and struggling Nottingham Forest.

After changing his side against Forest on Saturday, he tinkered with his squad again by handing Jay Tabb his full league debut in place of Jimmy Kebe and naming Long on the bench instead of Lita.

But Royals boss knew better than to expect an easy game against a Wednesday side determied to avenge their 6-0 hammering at the Madejski Stadium earlier in the season.

The Owls have improved since then and boss Brian Laws made just the one change to the side which turned over Burnley 4-2 away from home at the weekend with captain Richard Wood back to replace Richard Hinds.

However, the visitors made their intentions clear from the off with Marek Matejovsky pulling the strings as the rain lashed down on Hillsborough.

It was not a night for goalkeepers, but Adam Federici was alert to snuff out the danger with Marcus Tudgay bearing down and Michael Gray sent a 25-yard free-kick whistling inches wide of the post as the Owls fought for early supremacy.

Despite the recent clump, Coppell's men were full of running and they nearly broke the deadlock in the 15th minute when ex-Sheffield United left-back Chris Armstrong skipped past two defenders but dragged his shot wide.

And eight minutes later they went closer again when Stephen Hunt's looping free-kick stuck the bar after a faint touch from Owls keeper Lee Grant.

Tabb then made a strong run to the edge of the box but his shot lacked power and frustrations began to creep in as the chances went begging.

No-one will have felt it more than Noel Hunt who went crashing to the ground in the box following a challenge from Mark Beevers. But referee Andy Hall deemed it a dive and booked the distraught Irishman.

And if that wasn't enough to make Coppell's blood boil, Wednesday then took a shock lead in first-half injury time.

The hosts lumped a hopeful ball into the area which Michael Duberry missed. Leon Clarke showed great control to kill the ball and lay it off to the on-rushing Sean McAlister who smashed it past Federici from 10 yards out.

It was a hammer blow for Coppell's men and Royals' boss reacted immediately by replacing the injured Tabb with Kebe at half-time.

And the move paid off when the visitors got back on level terms in the 56th minute after a sustained spell of pressure.

Grant made a sensational one-handed save to tip Rosenior's audacious volley around the post. Wednesday failed to clear the first corner and when Matejovsky whipped in a second the ball was flicked on to Doyle who nodded it in at the back post for his first goal since the 4-0 win over Watford on January 9.

More importantly, it also ended his side's worrying goal drought and it was the first scored by a Reading player in a whopping 598 minutes of action.

The relief was almost palpable as Reading searched for a winner and Duberry went close with a bullet header from Stephen Hunt's corner.

But the few hundred travelling fans were on the edge of their seats in the 80th minute when Clarke fired past Federici, only for the linesman to correctly rule it out for a shove on Alex Pearce.

And how it came back to haunt them as within a minute Royals got their winner.

Wednesday sub James O'Connor lost the ball in midfield to a strong Duberry challenge, Stephen Hunt burst forward then found Long lurking on the right,

The Republic of Ireland striker still had plenty to do but gave Grant no chance by drilling the ball high into the net from a tight angle to send Reading fans in front of him into a frenzy.

Wednesday threw the kitchen sink at Royals in a frantic finish and Federici denied his opposite number Grant with a tremendous save from virtually the last kick of the game.

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