Wednesday ended 2006 with a comfortable victory over one of the Championship strugglers – but they couldn’t repeat the feat against another of the divisions relegation candidates as the were brought back down to earth with a thud thanks to a brace from Nick Barmby.
Neutrals having a bet on today’s game at Hillsborough would have more than likely marked the Owls down as certs for another three points in their quest for promotion – but as an Owls fan, you’re always wary when a win is expected – especially against a side struggling down at the other end of the table and with caretaker manager Phil Brown working his hardest to get the job full-time.
Deon Burton tried his best to get something from the game from an extremely poor Owls performance as his neat solo effort levelled the scores after the break – but Wednesday failed to make their dominance pay and were dealt a sucker-punch as Barmby followed up his dubiously offside-looking opener with anither dubious winner, this time after the ball seemed to canon off his hand en-route to the back of Mark Crossley’s net.
If Wednesday needed an early warning that things weren’t set out to be rosey on the first game of 2007, it was the heavy downpour that drenched the 28,600 crowd as they entered Hillsborough.
And eyebrows were raised as the teamsheets were read out – with Steve Maclean dropped to the bench to be replaced by Deon Burton, despite the former Scunthorpe striker netting two goals in his last two matches. Laws also went with Yoann Folly on the right of midfield in place of Wayne Anbdrews, a move that didn’t work out the last time it was tried at home to Southampton.
But despite the early confusion, Wednesday made a bright start to the match as they passed the ball around well and gave Phil Brown’s men the runaround before the in-form Glenn Whelan launched a powerful low effort at goal only to see Boaz Myhill tip it around the post.
The vast majority of the bumper Hillsborough crowd were expecting the Owls to maintain their dominance and push forward for the breakthrough, but Hull had other ideas as their rejuvinated side retaliated resulting in Craig Fagan seeing a long-range effort deflected wide.
And the visitors took a shock lead as early as the ninth in dubious circumstances as Nick Barmby seemingly broke free of the Wednesday offside trap before finishing in style by Mark Crossley to give the Tigers the early advantage.
Barmby couldn’t believe his luck as he ran away in celebration after the linesman failed to spot a blatant offside involving the former Liverpool and Everton player.
The breakthrough stunned the Owls players and they struggled to respond with passes going wayward and shots finding anything but the back of the net.
Despite taking the lead, it was clear to see why the Tigers are where they are, offering little in attack with only their battling qualities at the back – expected of any team fighting against the drop – but Wednesday struggled to find any sort of form.
The one time Wednesday did create a chance, Marcus Tudgay typified the day for all in blue and white as his tame effort from inside the box was easily saved by Myhill when he had time to take another touch or two with the goal at his mercy.
If anyone looked the more likely to score it was the visitors, but with Wedneday contributing to their own downfall by giving the ball away too easily, Jon Parkin and Craig Fagan both had efforts saved by Mark Crossley in a dour first half.
Wednesday finished the first-half perhaps the stronger, with Frank Simek blazing down the right only to see his effort smash into the side netting while Madjid Bougherra’s header was easily saved by Myhill to consolidate their advantage into the break.
Half-Time: Wednesday 0-1 Hull City
Owls boss Brian Laws made his intentions clear as the second half kicked-off with Steve Maclean coming on to the field to replace the disappointing Marcus Tudgay in attack alongside Deon Burton.
And the Owls only had to wait eight minutes until the equaliser came, and it came through some individual brilliance from Deon Burton as he anced by two Hull defender before slotting an unstoppable low effort by Myhill to wake the relatively quiet home support up.
As expected, the goal gave Wednesday a huge lift following a disappointing hour previous, but it also saw more urgency from the visitors who looked determined to regain their lead to add to their improved points tally over the festive period.
But Phil Brown and the near-2000 travelling Tigers fans were dealt a blow just after the hour mark as their highly-rated stopper Myhill was forced to leave the field through injury to be replaced by Matt Duke in goal.
A flood of efforts towards the new goalkeeper would have been expected – but Wednesday failed to turn possession into goals as they lacked the spark in attack which hgas paid dividends for them in recent weeks.
As a result, Laws brought Wayne Andrews on to the right wing at the expense of Kenny Lunt – who had an extremely poor afternoon by his standards – with Yoann Folly moving back into his preferred central midfield role to allow the on-loan Coventry winger to attack down the right.
But just as the Owls were looking to push forward in search of the decisive goal which would give them another vital three points, they were dealt with a sucker punch as Nick Barmby continued his fine form against Wednesday with the winner on 65 minutes from close-range.
Barmby was first to react after David Livermore sent a dangerous ball into the box- but the goal had further controversy as the experienced striker looked to have used his hand to help the ball in to the back of the net. But the Wednesday protests led to nothing.
Wednesday continued to press in search of the equaliser but Wayne Andrews, Steve Maclean and Deon Burton all saw efforts go wayward in front of goal on a frustrating afternoon for the Hillsborough faithful.
Mark Crossley came up for a late corner but the Owls stopper was unable to reproduce his heroics which saw his last minute header take a share of the spoils in Wednesday’s last match at Hillsborough against Southampton.
The defeat leaves Wednesday without a win in three at Hillsborough as they welcome Stuart Pearce’s Manchester City to S6 in the FA Cup 3rd Round next week before going into two huge clashes against Derby County and Sunderland in January.
Wednesday: Crossley, Simek, Bougherra, Bullen, Spurr (O’Brien 78), Lunt (Andrews 55), Folly, Whelan, Brunt, Tudgay (MacLean 46), Burton. Subs Not Used: Adamson, Coughlan.
Hull: Myhill (Duke 59), France, Turner, Delaney, Dawson, Marney, Ashbee, Livermore, Barmby (McPhee 72), Parkin (Coles 89), Fagan. Subs Not Used: Elliott, Forster.
Brian Laws told BBC Sport:
‘I’m a little bit confused. If a player is offside, he’s offside and he was a good 10 yards.
‘Their player played it through, all right it’s hit one of our players 10 yards further on, but I’m mystified as to why that was allowed.
‘That’s something I’ll have a little chat about with the referee to see if he can clarify that with me.
‘But the second one, I thought there was a possibility about handball, but I’ve heard maybe not, that it was more of a chest.
‘We pinned them right back and created chance after chance, but we couldn’t put the ball in the net.’
Phil Brown told BBC Sport:
‘For the first goal he was standing in an offside position, there’s no doubt about it.
‘But it took a deflection from a Sheffield Wednesday player and I thought it was quite astute linesman play, the fact that he saw it come off their player.
‘It’s difficult to judge those deflections but he has seen it and kept the flag down and if you want somebody on a one-to-one from our team’s point of view then Nicky Barmby is the man and he tucked it away with aplomb.
‘There was a question about the second goal being a handball. I’ve asked Nicky and he’s a very honest lad and he turned his chest into it, so it was a perfectly legitimate goal.’