Darius Vassell’s winner was enough to see Wednesday crash out of the FA Cup against Manchester City at Eastlands on Tuesday night – but the Owls didn’t go without a fight.
Brian Laws men were more than a match for their Premiership opponents on the night, and Wednesday looked to be in with a chance of progression after Lee Bullen’s header levelled Stephen Ireland’s opener, but superior finishing proved the difference as both sides had their fair share of chances after the break.
Surprise, surprise, highly-rated Owls defender Madjid Bougherra missed out through injury, allowing Graham Coughlan to partner Lee Bullen at the heart of the Wednesday defence but Brian Laws made no further changes to the side that lost 1-0 at Derby.
In the City ranks, the Owls had a certain Joey Barton to deal with after City’s main man missed the clash between the two teams at Hillsborough last weekend.
But despite the added bite to the hosts’ midfield it was the Owls who made the brighter start, backed by a superb 6,000 plus following from S6, as Steve Maclean almost pounced on a mix up in the City defence.
But Barton didn’t take long to up the gear in the City midfield, and his presence was ultimately the difference between the two sides.
Firs the midfielder, tipped for a move to Everton in the January transfer window, saw a dangerous free-kick flash by Mark Crossley’s goal before he provided Stephen Ireland with an inch-perfect goal which almost saw City take the advantage after Crossley spilled his initial effort.
Darius Vassell was also causing the Wednesday defence problems with his pace but his finishing thus far had been anything but Premiership standard, as he ran through on goal only to be denied by the leg of Crossley.
At the other end, Wednesday came closest after Marcus Tudgay went through on goal after a neat pass by Maclean, but the tight angle saw Wednesday-fan Nicky Weaver make a comfortable save at his near post to deny the Owls hitman.
The breakthrough finally came for the hosts just minutes before half-time as Barton raced free down the right hand side after looking suspiciously offside before feeding Stephen Ireland who slotted in to an empty Owls net to give City the advantage.
Chris Brunt had threatened for Wednesday earlier and Graham Coughlan had a golden opportunity to level for Wednesday just before the break but he couldn’t direct his free header goalwards.
Half-Time: City 1-0 Wednesday
Owls boss Brian Laws made two changes to the side at half-time with Wade Small and Yoann Folly coming on to replace Deon Burton and Kenny Lunt respectively. Marcus Tudgay moved in to an attacking role alongside Maclean while Small occupied the right wing.
And Small, returning to full fitness following a knee injury, almost made an impact as his pacey runs down the right forced a number of early corners at the start of the second 45 to show the Owls’ intentions.
And one such corner paid off just five minutes after the restart as Chris Brunt delivered an in-perfect cross on the head of Lee Bullen who wheeled away in celebration in front of the Wednesday ‘Barmy Army’ behind the goal after beating Weaver and levelling the scores.
The goal lifted the Owls, but City still looked dangerous on the attack, and there were worries aplenty in the Owls camp as Mark Crossley went down under a challenge from Vassell – but the former Nottingham Forest man got back to his feet to continue in-between the sticks.
But it wasn’t long before the on-loan Fulham stopper was picking the ball out of the back of the net as Darius Vassell found some space in the Owls box before launching an unstoppable shot in to the top corner and give the hosts the advantage.
Both sides had their fair share of chances as the game wore on with Marcus Tudgay and Richard Wood both coming close as Wednesday looked to get something out of the game late-on.
But it wasn’t to be for Brian Laws’ men, and attention will now return to promotion hopes as Roy Keane’s Sunderland side make the trip south to Hillsborough for a crunch clash on Saturday.
Brian Laws told BBC Sport:
‘It was fantastic to watch, particularly the second half which was end to end.
‘The excitement of the Cup still remains, that is clear.
‘Of course I am disappointed we have not gone through but if I am going to lose to anyone I don’t mind losing to (City boss) Stuart Pearce.’
Stuart Pearce told BBC Sport:
‘It was a very open game. There wasn’t much between the two sides.
‘We are delighted to be through to the next round. Darius has won the tie and deserved a goal for his hard work.’