WE’RE STAYING UP! A 2-0 victory away at Brighton meant that the Owls secured Championship football for at least another season, and at the same time relegated Brighton, Millwall and Crewe to League One. A Hart own goal after just eight minutes sent the Owls on the road to safety before Burton O’Brien wrapped up the points with a fine solo effort with 20 minutes remaining.
The last time the Owls visited the Withdean Stadium Brighton just needed a point to send the Owls down to League One, so it seemed like fate that the Owls should do the same to the hosts on Easter Monday.
Owls boss Paul Sturrock welcomed back midfielder Glenn Whelen to the side after the Republic of Ireland under-21 international was left out of the 1-0 victory over Norwich at the weekend. Whelen joined Steve Adams in the centre of midfield at the expense of the on-loan Yoann Folly who didn’t make the squad.
On-loan Leon Best also made a rare start for Wednesday in midfield, as Chris Brunt was left on the bench. The Southampton attacked was played on the right wing, with O’Brien used on the left side.
Sturrock brought in youngsters Sean McAllister and Tommy Spurr to the squad after injuries kept defenders Richard Wood, Mikkel Bischoff, Drissa Diallo, and Peter Gilbert out of action.
Brighton boss Mark McGhee kept faith with the same side that produced a shock 2-1 victory away at Ipswich at the weekend.
Adam Hinshelwood returned from a shoulder injury but only made the subs bench, with veteran Guy Butters continuing alongside Paul McShane in the centre of the Brighton defence.
Walking into the Withdean Stadium, you can see why the Seagulls priority lies not with staying in the Championship, but getting the go-ahead to build a new stadium at nearby Falmer.
Despite it’s scenic setting (and the handy pub overlooking the pitch!), the ground is basically a local athletics track with makeshift stands all over the place. It’s impossible to see the far end of the pitch, and difficult to create anything like an atmosphere inside.
There was little time to feel sorry for the hosts though, as Paul Sturrock’s men knew that a victory here would see the Owls Championship status secured, and a draw would leave the others a massive hill to climb.
With Paul Sturrock opting to play three strikers in the form of Leon Best, Marcus Tudgay and Deon Burton – the Owls were going all out for a victory and they couldn’t have made a better start.
Just eight minutes had passed when former Derby man Deon Burton broke free down the right hand side and made his way to the by-line, where his dangerous cross across the face of goal was turned into the back of his own net by Gary Hart.
At the other end Paul Reid tested Scott Carson in the Wednesday goal but his header was easily saved by the on-loan Liverpool stopper.
The Owls continued to press forward at the other end, knowing that their fate was in their own hands. The Brighton defence seemed to be all over the place when john Hills broke free, this time down the left hand side, and produced another decent cross across goal, but fortunately for the hosts no Owls strikers could get on the end of it.
Although the ground wasn’t a couldron of atmosphere, the Brighton fans did their best to rally the troops and they responded with some dcent pressure in the Wednesday half just before half-time.
Midfielder Dean Hammond had a neat header cleared away from goal and key man Colin Kazim-Richards saw his daisy-cutter go wide of the far post. The hosts then had their best chance of the game when Paul Redi saw his effort saved by Carson, before Dean Hammond’s goal-bound effort was cleared to safety by Graham Coughlan.
With the Seagulls currently heading for League One football along with Crewe and Millwall, they piled forward in the second half in a desperate bid for a vital three points. McGhee introduced French winger Alex Frutos to add some much-needed flair to the Brighton attack.
But the Owls defence coped relatively well with everything Brighton threw at them – and as Seagulls’ boss McGhee said after the game – they went out with a whimper.
The game, and the Owls Championship status, was all-but secured with 20 minutes left on the clock as Burton O’Brien’s solo effort was saved by the Brighton ‘keeper, before O’Brien picked up the rebound and lashed it in the goal to make it 2-0 and send the 600 Wednesday fans behind the goal barmy.
The host’s fristrations boiled over with just 10 minutes remaining on the clock when midfielder Deon Hammond was shown a second yellow card.
So that’s it then, Championship football secured for another season at least. It wasn’t pretty, but Paul Sturrock said 4th bottom would be a success this season, and that has been achieved at the very least. The Owls recent form has been that of a team in the top half of the table, and hopefully they can build on this for next season – BRINT IT ON!
Paul Sturrock told SWFC.co.uk:
‘I’m delighted for everyone involved with the football club. It’s been a rollercoaster season with all our injuries and the influx of players to rebuild the team. But in the last five or six weeks we’ve adapted and learned the league. I’m proud of every one of the players.’
‘This was always going to be a transitional season. But the coaches and I have done a better job this year than the one we did last.’
Mrk McGhee told the official Brighton site:
‘There’s no shame in this relegation. What we’ve not been able to do for the players is we’ve not been able to give them enough help. It’s about finances. It’s not rocket science. If you’ve got a better budget you can buy better players.’
‘That’s not a criticism of the players we’ve got. What they needed was a bit of help. We had to use too many of the young lads, we asked too many players to play too many games in succession.’