Date: 1st April 2006 at 7:02pm
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Wednesday increased the gap between themselves and the relegation zone by earning a hard fought point against a stubborn Burnley side at Hillsborough.

The visitors had the best chances of the game when former Sheffield United forward Andy Gray rounded Scott Carson and had the goal at his mercy. But Frankie Simek was on hand to race back and block Gray’s effort for a corner. Chris McCann also had a golden opportunity to give the Clarets the lead but somehow missed from just a few yards out.

Team News:

Owls boss Paul Sturrock was without the services of defender Peter Gilbert after the former Leicester City man was ruled out until Christmas. John Hills, who had just returned from his own injury, replaced Gilbert at left-back.

It was the only change Sturrock had to make after seeing his side brush aside Wolves last week at Molineux. Jon-Paul McGovern continued on the bench, as did Steve Maclean.

Burnley boss Steve Cotterill kept with the same side that had picked up in recent weeks with a draw against Southampton and a victory over Norwich City.

The side included recent loan signings Phil Bardsley from Manchester United, Andy Gray from Sunderland, and Alan Mahon from Wigan Athletic. Former Wednesday target Michael Ricketts was also in the side, partnering Gray in attack.

Match Report:

With relegation rivals Millwall and Brighton playing each other, the Owls were desperate to pick up three points in a vital weekend for all the clubs involved in the relegation battle.

Wednesday kicked off infront of a decent crowd at Hillsborough, who were hoping to see the Owls carry on their fine form which has seen them unbeaten in three games.

Although Wednesday had most of the play in the early stages, it was the visitors who had the first opportunity from a free-kick. The on-loan Mahon swung in the free-kick which found Frank Sinclair, but the former Leicester man headed wide.

Wednesday’s first chance came on 12 minutes from the unlikeliest of sources. A long throw from John Hills found bounced awkwardly for Chris Brunt in the Burnley box, but the Northern Irish international managed to flick the ball on with his head only to see his effort drop over the bar.

Despite the windy conditions, Wednesday were beginning to show why they beat Wolves last week with some neat play in and around the Burnley box. Marcus Tudgay had a good opportinuty in the Clarets area but his low shot was saved well by Jensen.

Wednesday hopes were boosted away from Hillsborough when goal updates from Millwall showed that Brighton were 2-0 up at the Den – a result which probably suited the Owls the best. The news that Stoke were also beating the Blades also lifted spirits.

The game was very stop start, with referee Laws not helping the flow of the game. Chances were restricted, and the few that came Wednesday’s way were long distance efforts which went way over the bar. John Hills and Chris Brunt the culprits.

The visitors had the final chance of the game when a thrown-in found Andy Gray in the Owls box. His neat chest down paved the way for an effort at the Owls goal, but his tame effort was hindered by the presence of Graham Coughlan and Scott Carson in goal.

Paul Sturrock was to receive some bad news at the break by learning that Mikkel Bischoff could take no further part. It’s thought the Danish defender may be out for some time. Owls club captain Lee Bullen came on to replace Bischoff in the centre of defence.

Steve Cotterill’s men started the brighter of the two in the second half, when on-loan defender Phil Bardsley broke free down the right hand side, only to see his intended cross fly over the Wednesday goal. The Clarets then saw a Jon Harley free-kick drift tamelessly over the bar as the hosts began to put some pressure on the Owls defence.

The best chances of the game came when Andy Gray rounded Scott Carson midway through the second half. The on-loan Sunderland striker just had to put the ball in to the back of the net but Owls defender Frankie Simek managed to scramble back and slide in to block the effort.

Just minutes later Steve Cotterill will have been kicking himself, when Chris McCann found himself unmarked in the Wednesday box, but his header from just five yards out somehow went wide of the goal.

Sturrock knew some changes had to be made and so he brought on Leon Best to replace Chris Brunt just after the hour mark. Best went upfront alongside Tudgay and Burton to bolster the attacking options for the Owls.

The two teams never seemed to get in to the right gear and the game looked to be drifting out into a 0-0 bore draw, but the Owls had a good claim for a penalty with just three minutes to go. Glenn Whelen drove a powerful effort towards goal and it seemed to his O’Connor on the arm from point blank range. The referee was well placed though and waved away the protests from the majority of the 24,000 strong crowd.

One good point for the Owls was the sight of Jon-Paul McGovern running out in a blue and white shirt. McGovern had returned from a long injury lay-off, but didn’t have much time to create anything for an Owls victory.

Final Word:

The Owls will be dissapointed that they couldn’t capitalise on the match between their relegation rivals at the Den, but I’m sure if somebody told Paul Sturrock the gap between Wednesday and the bottom three would widen before the match, then I’m sure he’d have taken it.

There’s now just five games to go this season, and with the Owls facing Crewe next week and with a six point gap, they have to be favourites for survival.

Player Ratings

Carson 6
Didn’t have much to do.

Simek 7
Still looking a bit raw at the back in his first full season as a pro, but did enough to get back and thwart Andy Gray from giving the visitors the lead.

Hills 7
A good performance in his first full game back from injury. Fitted in well at left back, and almost played as a left winger at the same time. Needs work on his crossing though.

Coughlan 7
Led the line well as always.

Bischoff 6
Will be a big miss to the Owls should his injury prove severe.

Folly 6
Not as good as in his previous games but still battled well and had a couple of decent efforts.

Brunt 5
Poor match from the Northern Irish international. Can be a liability at times, and his effortless attitude doesn’t help.

Whelen 5
Will need a lot of work in the summer if he’s to continue in the middle of the park for the Owls. Improvement in his passing this week.

O’Brien 6
Looking a much better player in recent weeks, and one who can actually play football! Linked well down the left with Hills.

Burton 6
A lot of expectation after his recent performances but he didn’t live up to it.

Tudgay 6
Worked his socks off and had a decent effort in the first half but it wasn’t his day.

Bullen 6
Without doing too much, he kept out the strong Burnley defence and coped relatively well with Ricketts.

Best 5
The game was pretty much killed off with the introduction of Best. He, and the rest of the team didn’t adapt to the new system implemented with his arrival.
Didn’t have much time to impress, but looked positive in his runs.

Paul Sturrock told BBC Sport:
‘We were very sluggish and there wasn’t the edge that we’ve shown in the last two or three weeks.

‘A lot of players were heavy-legged, so we’ll have to look at the training from now until the end of the season.

‘I think a draw was a fair result because Burnley had a couple of clear-cut chances they maybe should have done better with.’

Steve Cotterill told BBC Sport:
‘The lads who’ve come in recently like Andy Gray, Phil Bardsley and Alan Mahon have given everyone a lift and there’s some healthy competition now.

‘We had three good headers and Gray also had a good chance.

‘With four gilt-edged chances like that, we’re disappointed to have not taken all three points.’