Date: 16th February 2006 at 1:15pm
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Wednesday’s first trip to the Ricoh Arena ended in defeat last night as the Owls went down 2-1 to a rejuvinated Coventry City team.

The travelling Wednesday fans did have some cheer though, as last season’s top scorer Steve Maclean returned to the side to make his first start in nearly a year. Stern John put the hosts in front just before the break and Gary McSheffrey made it 2-0 with a quickly taken free-kick. Chris Brunt did pull one back with 10 minutes remaining, but it was too little too late for the Owls who were once again guilty of missing good chances in front of goal.

Owls boss Paul Sturrock was hit with the news that in-form defender Richard Wood would miss the game through an injury he picked up in the weekend’s stalemate with Crystal Palace. Drissa Diallo took his place in the centre of defence alongside Graham Coughlan. Frankie Simek returned at right-back, and Glenn Whelen also returned from suspension to replace Chris Brunt. Deon Burton’s hamstring injury meant a return for last season’s top scorer Steve Maclean, who partnered Barry Corr in attack.

The Sky Blues stuck with Dennis Wise in the centre of the park despite worries over his fitness. Micky Adams made three changes to the side that got beat 4-0 at Watford at the weekend. Stern John, Andy Morrell and Matt Heath all came in to the side at the expense of Don Hutchison, Richard Shaw and Marcus Hall.

Despite the well-maintained pitch at the impressive Ricoh Arena, a flowing game of football was never on the cards, as the first 15 minutes were a scappy affair with no real chances at either end.

The first chances came when the home fans thought a penalty was on the cards after Dele Adebola was felled in the box from a Diallo challenge. The former Birmingham man somehow found his way passed Diallo, before going down under a challenge, but the referee waved away the protests.

City came even closer minutes later when midfield engine man Dennis Wise forced a great save from Chris Adamson from 30 yards out.

Wednesday found a way back in to the game though, and nearly opened the scoring when Lee Bullen sliced his effort wide on 26 minutes. The cross from the left-hand side somehow found it’s way to Bullen, but the Scot couldn’t find the back of the yet from 6 yards out.

Maclean was making his presence known, and was holding the ball up well with Barry Corr. His efforts were nearly rewarded minutes later when his turn and shot from the edge of the box drifted just over Fulop’s goal.

Paul Sturrock was forced to change his hand 10 minutes before the break when Diallo was forced off with a hamstring injury, after stumbling when clearing the danger for a corner. Diallo was replaced by Brunt, who moved on to the right-hand sie of midfield with Lee Bullen reverting to centre-back.

The deadlock was broken in first half stoppage time when Stern John out the hosts ahead. A deep cross from Dennis Wise found John unmarked, for him to tuck his shot under Adamson in the Wednesday goal.

Despite Sturrock’s half-time team talk being blown out of the water by the late City goal, his strong words at half-time made sure the Owls came out of the blocks the quickest in the second half, in the search for the equaliser.

Chris Brunt had a low shot well blocked by Fulop in the City goal, and Steve Maclean also had two shots well blocked by the City defence.

Wednesday were getting closer to an equaliser, and brought on Leon Best to replace Barry Corr just after the hour mark, in a bid to strengthen the Owls attack and break down the resolute Sky Blues defence – which included former Blade Robert Page, who was taking a fair amount of stick from the 3,000 strong travelling barmy army.

Richie Partridge was then brought on to replace Yoann Folly, who didn’t have the best of games, but was certainly better than Glenn Whelen, who looks like he’s suffering from a distinct lack of confidence. Partridge was wanting to impress, having played for the Sky Blues before his move to Hillsborough.

Despite the changes, Coventry’s lead was doubled on 76 minutes thanks to a Gary McSheffrey strike. City got a free-kick which Dennis Wise took quickly, and McSheffrey was able to tuck the ball underneath Adamson to make it 2-0.

Wednesday did have a glimmer of hope in the final 10 minutes though, as a Chris Brunt free-kick from the edge of the box found the roof of Fulop’s goal to make it 2-1.

Micky Adams brought Don Hutchison on to replace goalscorer John and revert to five men in midfield to soak up the late Wednesday pressure.

It worked, and the Owls were unable to break down a City team who are now unbeaten in four-months at their new stadium. Wednesday will certainly have to perform better than this should they want to compete against our city rivals on Saturday.

Player Ratings

Adamson 7
Adamson has proved he’s got what it takes at this level, but will probably miss out on Saturday with the arrival of a new ‘keeper on loan. Made a few good stops and couldn’t be at fault for the goals.

Simek 5
One of his worst games in a Wednesday shirt – but then again the defence was at sixes and sevens all night.

Gilbert 5
After some promising performances when joining initially, Gilbert has struggled for form since. His distribution is poor and he’ll have to be a lot stronger to cope with the Blades frontline on Saturday.

Coughlan 7
Coughlan and Wood are the best partnership for the Owls, and Coughlan had to make up for some Diallo errors on a number of occassions. Still shows 110% commitment – what all 11 players will need to do on Saturday.

Diallo 5
Looked like he could make an error at any minute – and did on a number of occassions. Was caught out by Adebola a number of times and injured himself through his own clumsy defending.

Bullen 6
Can’t be easy changing positions every week, but carved out some good chances which unfortunately he couldn’t take.

O’Brien 6
Had one good opportunity which he skied over the bar. Is best in a more central role.

Whelen 5
The worst player on the pitch. Didn’t contribute anything to the team and his distribution is awful – in a key area of the pitch. Low of confidence.

Folly 6
Has a good engine and keeps improving his fitness. Hasn’t yet gelled with Whelen in the centre.

Maclean 8
The one bright spark from the match. Needs to get his fitness levels back up, but adds something different to the attack and looked desperate for goals.

Corr 6
Has played well in recent weeks despite critisicm but struggled against City.

Brunt 6
Brought the Owls back in to the game with his free-kick, but his lazy attitude will never win the Owls fans over.

Best 6
Looked strong and quick up front, also held the ball up well. Not sure if he’ll gel well with Maclean though.
Wanted to impress against his former club but didn’t get much time, and came in to a struggling Owls side.

Paul Sturrock told BBC Sport:
‘In all my years as a manager I have never seen anything like this and I thought I had seen it all.
‘In training we are working on finishing but it’s down to mind games now and it’s a problem for us.

‘No-one can accuse us of a lack of fight, will to win or attitude – it’s just this problem of scoring goals.’

Micky Adams told BBC Sport:
‘We were delighted to see Brunt wasn’t in from the start because we knew he was a threat from set-pieces.
‘We were disappointed to give away a free-kick in that position especially with him on the field..

‘We are not kidding ourselves that this was a good performance as both sides had lots of chances.’