Wednesday boss Brian Laws insisted the encounter with league leaders Birmingham City was a ‘win win’ situation for the club – and there were certainly plenty of positives to take from the match despite a scoreline which more than flattered Steve Bruce’s men.
The Owls certainly had an off-day in front of goal – as the rejuvinated Wednesday team of late would have scored three or four of the chances that were lad on to them, but it wasn’t to be their day as the superior finishing of the multi-million pound opponents shone through at Hillsborough on Saturday.
The recent impressive form of late meant that Laws had to make just one forced change with the suspended Glenn Whelan being replaced by Yoann Folly in the centre of the Wednesday midfield.
Meanwhile, Steve Bruce also made one forced change to his side – who had also just been defeat once in nine games as they sit top of the Championship tree – with Mehdi Nafti coming in the midfield for the suspended Fabrice Muamba.
Despite facing the league leaders, many Owls fans had come to Hillsborough expectant of an impressive Wednesday display and hopefuly of continuing their three game winning run with victory – and the players responded in fine form by carving opening the better chances as they dominated the first half.
Marcus Tudgay came close from just inside the box after some fine work with strike partner Deon Burton before Burton had a chance of his own minutes later only to blaze a close-range header high and wide from a superb Frankie Simek cross.
Birmingham’s formation showed just how much the Blues respected Wednesday with Cameron Jerome playing up front alone with the in-form Gary McSheffrey seemingly dropping in to the midfield.
And Wednesday continued to dominate as Burton again had a golden opportunity to give the hosts the lead just after the hour mark only to see his effort cleared off the loan by the recalled Nafti.
And Burton will have been kicking himself minutes later as Wayne Andrews got the better of his marker on the right hand side to produce a dangerous cross for Burton to get on the end of – but the former Rotherham man hesitated and saw his shot brilliantly saved by Taylor in the Birmingham goal.
But Wednesday’s early domination counted for nothing as Birmingham took the lead very much against the run of play ten minutes before the break as Stephen Clemence pounced on Mark Crossley’s parry from a long-range Jerome effort to break the deadlock to the delight of the travelling Birmingham fans.
Half-Time: Wednesday 0-1 Birmingham
Brian Laws had just made one change to his side with Wayne Andrews limping off before the break to be replaced by Steve Maclean. The Scot went in to the Owls attack to partner Deon Burton while Marcus Tudgay dropped to the right wing to fill in for Andrews.
Wednesday came out of the traps all guns blazing after the break but their bad luck in front of goal continued as captain Lee Bullen headed a Kenny Lunt free-kick wide before Marcus Tudgay neatly chested the ball down inside the box but his low drive hit the side netting.
Birmingham were still showing signs of class in attack with the Arsenal loan-duo of Bendtner and Larsson causing the Owls defence the biggest problems.
But Wednesday fans will have been thinking it wasn’t their day as the best chance of the game fell to Chris Brunt – but the Northern Irish international blazed the ball over from just yards out and with Maik Taylor seemingly beaten..
Madjid Bougherra was having a superb game at the back and his speed saw him burst inside the box before squaring the ball back to allow Marcus Tudgay to have an effort on goal and see his shot saved before Brunt blazed over.
And Wednesday were maid to pay for their misses just minutes later as Gary McSheffrey broke free of the offside trap down the left hand side to home in on goal and fire a powerful shot inside Crossley’s near post to double the visitors advantage – again against the run of play to the dismay of the 26,000 strong Owls faithful.
The Wednesday of old may well have laid down and died but the new spirit in the camp saw the Owls continue to push the Birmingham defence in search of way back in to the game as Lee Bullen saw his effort headed off the line and Marcus Tudgay missed from yards out.
But the victory for the Blues was made complete with ten minutes to go as Mark Crossley was forced to go off through injury. And with Laws having used all his substitutes it was left to Lee Bullen to take the number one jersey and leave the hosts with just ten men.
Marcus Tudgay’s poor backpass allowed Cameron Jerome a clear run on goal and he was never going to miss when one-on-one with Bullen to make the scoreline a very, very flattering one for Steve Bruce.
Wednesday’s performance will have left more positives than negatives for Brian Laws to discuss in training – and he’ll be confident of a victory against Southampton next week should they put in a similar performance on Saturday at Hillsborough (kick-off 3pm).
Wednesday: Crossley, Bullen, Simek, Bougherra, Spurr, Lunt, Brunt, Andrews (MacLean 45), Folly (O’Brien 77), Tudgay, Burton (Talbot 76). Subs Not Used: Adamson, Coughlan.
Birmingham: Maik Taylor, Kelly, Sadler, Upson, Jaidi, Clemence, Larsson (Danns 86), Nafti, McSheffrey (Kilkenny 85), Jerome, Bendtner (Campbell 90). Subs Not Used: Doyle, Martin Taylor.
Brian Laws told BBC Sport:
‘It’s the biggest travesty I’ve ever seen in my life.
‘We were the better side and lost. We really took the game to them and I thought we were excellent. I can’t understand how we haven’t scored. But there are a lot of positives to come out of the game and I’ll pick the players up.’
‘Mark Crossley went off because he felt his hamstring but it’s not as serious as we first thought and I’ll be very surprised if he’s not ready for next week.’
Steve Bruce told BBC Sport:
‘We got away with it, it’s as simple as that. That was as tough a game as we’ve had. Wednesday were excellent and the crowd was right behind them.
‘But they couldn’t do the vital thing, sticking the ball in the net.
‘With Gary McSheffrey, Cameron Jerome and Nicklas Bendtner up front, we’re always a threat. I wouldn’t swap any of them for anybody.’