Date: 19th October 2008 at 8:30pm
Written by:

STEVE Watson’s first-half lob was enough to take the spoils in a fiery Steel City derby and make sure Wednesday had bragging rights yet again with a second consecutive victory over the Blades at Hillsborough.

Wednesday were well worthy of all three points and could have made the game secure much sooner had Deon Burton converted his second half spot kick against the Blades, who were reduced to ten men in the first half as referee Mike Dean rather harshly adjudged Matthew Kilgallon worthy of seeing red for a challenge on Sean McAllister.

Wednesday also saw a man sent off in strange circumstances, with Jermaine Johnson’s outburst following his substitution earning him a second yellow card – but the Owls continued with all eleven men still on the pitch after the Jamaican had already been replaced by the returning Akpo Sodje.

Wednesday boss Brian Laws made two changes to the side that got thumped at Plymouth two weeks ago with Richard Wood returning to the heart of defence following an injury, Steve Watson pushing up to the midfield, while Jermaine Johnson started in place of Etienne Esajas, who dropped to the bench.

New signing Lewis Buxton was put on the Owls’ bench, while there was also a welcome return of last season’s derby day hero Akpo Sodje in the squad.

Kevin Blackwell also made a change despite the Blades coming in to the game on the back of three straight wins, with former Barnsley man Brian Howard earning his first start for the club at the expense of Danny Webber, who dropped to the bench.

Last season’s Hillsborough derby saw Wednesday out-fight and out-class the Blades under Bryan Robson, and despite some fantastic pre-match banter between Laws and Blackwell, it was a case of more of the same for United as Wednesday enjoyed the upper hand in the first half and should have felt they deserved more than a slender 1-0 at the break.

The clash started in typically ‘derby day’ fashion with a scrappy opening seeing neither side carve out anything more than half chances in front of goal at either end.

The edgy opening saw Stephen Quinn give the Blades the first real chance on goal when his blazing run to the edge of the box saw the midfielder tripped just outside the penalty area.

Many Owls’ fans will have expected James Beattie, a scorer from a free-kick in the last derby meeting at Bramall Lane, to step up and test Lee Grant at least but it was left to Howard to power his effort straight in to the Wednesday wall.

Wednesday were enjoying the better of the possession but Watson’s first corner of the match flashed across the Blades six-yard box with no Wednesday player finding the finishing touch to the relief of Paddy Kenny.

The chance seemed to spur Wednesday on, and Jermaine Johnson should have done better minutes later when he went darting towards the Blades goal before somewhat typically firing his effort high and in to the United fans behind the goal.

It was to be the start of an eventful match for the Jamaican winger, with his speed and trickery causing the United defence problems throughout before his substitution and red card.

With Beattie and Sharp leading the Blades attack, the visitors were always going to look dangerous on the counter, and it was against the run of play when Mark Beevers nearly turned the ball in to his own net when deflecting a Cotterill effort just over the bar for a corner.

But the game swung Wednesday’s way in seven minutes as Kilgallon first saw red for a high challenge on McAllister which more than infuriated Blades boss Kevin Blackwell, and possibly rightly so.

There was no doubting the former Leeds man’s challenge was high and dangerous, with his studs in McAllister’s back, but the intention of winning the ball was there and a yellow card may well have been more appropriate.

And just seven minutes later Wednesday took advantage of having an extra man as confusion at the back between Kenny and sub Chris Morgan allowed Watson to steer a superb lob over Kenny and in to the back of the Blades goal to send the majority inside Hillsborough wild.

The ascendancy was with the Owls, and they could well have taken a bigger advantage in to the break had Beevers done better from a Watson free-kick, while James O’Connor also fired just wide of goal as the Owls took a 1-0 lead in to the break.

Half-Time: Wednesday 1-0 United

Blades boss Blackwell may well have felt hard done by with the sending off of Kilgallon, but he’ll have also had strong words for his men in the dressing room no doubt, with Wednesday comfortably on top in the match.

And the visitors showed more passion to compete in the second half despite having only ten men.

But while United certainly upped their passion and tempo, Wednesday didn’t do themselves any favours as they continued to take their foot off the gas and look to sit back on their lead, much similar to previous matches this season.

A dangerous cross from Beattie looked to be finding strike partner Sharp inside the box but skipper Wood came to the Owls’ rescue by stretching to the limit to head the ball away from danger as United continued to look for the breakthrough.

But for United’s hard work, they failed to trouble Grant in goal, and Wednesday steadily worked their way back in to the game, with the left-hand side proving fruitful for the hosts.

And it was from the left that Wednesday should have sewn the game up from the spot, O’Connor’s turn wrong-footing Gary Speed and going to ground with the man in black not hesitating in giving Wednesday a rightful spot-kick.

Deon Burton stepped up to score a goal which would have given the red and white side of Sheffield a mountain to climb, but Kenny guessed right and kept his side in it with a top-drawer save and continue Burton’s dry spell in front of goal.

On derby day and at 1-0 down, Blackwell was forced to change his hand with new signing Stokes being thrown in to the equation in place of the disappointing Howard, while Billy Sharp failed to make an impact as he was substituted for Webber.

Beattie, billed as United’s obvious danger man prior to the clash, had been kept quiet by the impressive Beevers throughout, but Blackwell no doubt saw him as the kind of player to bring a goal out of nothing, opting to keep him on the pitch.

But it was the substitution of Johnson minutes later that caused chaos, not just because Wednesday fans seemed to be baffled by his exit after his superb performance which caused the United defence all kinds of problems, but for the manner in which he left the field.

Johnson’s obvious disappointment at being substituted was there for all to see, leaving the pitch with his head down and kicking a water bottle in to the crowd before having a minor altercation with assistant manager Russ Wilcox.

Johnson went down the players’ enterance but the fourth official had words with the referee before ordering the player back out on to the pitch and promptly giving him his second yellow card of the match and bringing the red from his pocket.

But despite the sending off, Wednesday had already made their substitution, with a cheer for the returning Sodje coming on, and the hosts continued with eleven men.

As expected, United continued to push forward in search of a leveller, but Wednesday almost caught them on the break when Sodje was set free before being hauled down by Naughton, who was somewhat fortunate to remain on the pitch with just a yellow card when the Wednesday striker was through on goal.

Francis Jeffers was also brought on to see the Jeffers-Sodje partnership in effect from the front, Tudgay taking up a midfield role, and the former Arsenal and Everton man came close when he fired over the bar from long range.

For the Blades’ possession, Grant was rarely threatened in the closing stages, though he almost cost Wednesday the victory with his time wasting in the six minutes of stoppage time added on for the earlier confusion.

Grant held on to the ball longer than he should and his mistake gave United a free-kick just inside the Wednesday box which was brilliantly charged down by the Wednesday wall to give them a derby day victory and see Wednesday leapfrog United at the same time.

Full-Time: Wednesday 1-0 United

Wednesday: Grant, Spurr, Watson, Tudgay, McAllister, Burton (Jeffers 82), Beevers, Wood, O’Connor (Esajas 78), McMahon, Johnson (Sodje 68). Unused: Smith, Buxton.

Blades: Kenny, Naysmith, Cotterill (Morgan 29), Kilgallon, Beattie, Speed, Howard (Stokes 67), Sharp (Webber 58), Quinn, Naughton, Ehiogu. Unused: Sun, Spring.