Who said derby days never follow the script? This one certainly did, and despite late Wednesday pressure which could have seen the Steel City Derby finish all square, our neighbours from the red and white half of the city held out for a deserved 2-1 victory – which could so easily have been more.
Owls boss Paul Sturrock dropped forward Barry Corr and replaced him with Leon Best – who partnered Steve Maclean in attack. Maclean was making his first start in front of the Wednesday crowd this season. Chris Brunt was also recalled to the team to replace the injured Drissa Diallo. Lee Bullen dropped to centre defence to cover for Diallo, with Brunt taking his place on the right hand side of midfield.
Neil Warnock gave a debut to Sunderland loanee Neill Collins. Collins had only met his team-mates on the morning of the match and slotted in at central defence to cover for the suspended David Unsworth. Warnock decided against using any of the former Wednesday players in the match, although Derek Geary was among the substitutes. Rob Kozluk replaced the injured Leigh Bromby, and Bruce Dyer continued up front alogside fellow new signing Ade Akinbiyi.
Before the match, a one minutes silence was impeccably observed by both sets of fans, in rememberance of the two Wednesday fans who died in a road accident on the way back from the midweek match at Coventry.
Wednesday were fastest out of the traps, backed by a majority of the 33,439 crowd – the highest in the Championship – when Leon Best was put through on goal from a Steve Maclean flick-on after just three minutes. The blades defence was able to put Best off in his efforts to give the Owls the lead, and his shot went high and wide of Paddy Kenny’s goal.
After a tense opening 10 minutes, the Blades first opportunity came from a Nick Montgomery volley which was blocked by the head of Frankie Simek. Reserve ‘keeper Chris Adamson then did well to stop an Akinbiyi effort from a Rob Kozluk throw-in.
At the other end, Chris Brunt nearly gave the Owls the lead through some neat inter-play with Maclean. The Scot’s through ball saw Brunt unmarked at the edge of the box, but unfortunately it was on his weaker right foot, and his effort was well blocked by Chris Armstrong.
The visitors were working their way in to the game and stamping their authority on it, when Paul Ifill’s winding run at Peter Gilbert saw the former Millwall man’s effort well blocked by Graham Coughlan.
Chris Brunt did test Paddy Kenny in the Blades goal, but his long range effort was easily saved low from the Republic Of Ireland international.
But it was Brunt’s challenge on tricky winger Michael Tonge that gave the Blades the breakthrough they needed. Brunt found himself covering for Simek at right-back and looked to have won the ball from Tonge, but the referee blew for a free-kick just on the edge of the Wednesday box.
On the 37th minute Michael Tonge swung the free-kick passed Chris Adamson and in to the stand-in ‘keepers top let-hand corner to send the travelling Blades fans into hysterics. Adamson looked to be positioned for a cross from Tonge, but found himself out of position for the shot, which gave the visitors a vital 1-0 lead.
Paul Sturrock would have been relatively happy to take his side in to the dressing room at half-time with a 1-0 defecit, but the Owls managers work was made even harder three minutes in to first half stoppage time when new-signing Ade Akinbiyi added a second for the Bramall Lane men.
Frankie Simek lost posession to an impressive Tongue, who put Chris Armstrong through to cross for Akinbiyi – who lost his marker Gilbert and volleyed the Blades second in front of the Wednesday kop. Despite the fourth official showing only two minutes stoppage time, the former Burnley hitman doubled the lead in the third minute of added on time.
The only goals that Wednesday looked like scoring came at the half-time interval, when entertainment from local club mascots resulted in Ozzie Owl netting twice for the Owls cause, with Blades mascot Captain Blade missing both his shots from the penalty spot.
The second half seemed more like a mission of damage limitation – not the ideal scenario in a derby game against your biggest rivals.
Though the Owls did get off to a positive start when Chris Brunt forced a save from Paddy Kenny from a free-kick.
Another Brunt free-kick was lashed accross Paddy Kenny’s goal, but left-back Peter Gilbert could only force the resulting effort over the bar and in to the frustrated Wednesday fans behind Kenny’s goal.
The Blades managed to weather the Wednesay storm though, and took control of the game. Not content with the 2-0 scoreline, Neil Warnock’s men were searching for more goals through the penatrative Michael Tonge and the industrious Jagielka running the Blades midfield.
Bruce Dyer was forming a good partnership with Akinbiyi in attack, and broke free on the right wing just before the hour mark to provide a superb cross for Akinbiyi to nod in to the Wednesday goal to make it 3-0, but his effort somehow went over the bar.
Dyer himself could have added the third 10 minutes later after Paul Ifill pulled the ball in to the former Barnsley man’s path, only to see his effort drift wide of Chris Adamson’s goal from just six yards.
Wednesday somehow found a lifeline with 10 minutes to go. A scramble in the United penalty box saw Glenn Whelen tripped under a challenge from Chris Morgan. Steve Maclean stepped up and kept his 100 per cent penalty success going by sending Kenny the wrong way.
The goal seemed to wake the Wednesday team up, and the Owls made United work hard for their three points in the final ten minutes.
Paul Sturrock brought Richie Partridge on and pushed Lee Bullen and Graham Coughlan up front to boost the Wednesday attack. It nearly worked when some neat play by Partridge on the right wing provided a cross for Chris Brunt to nod in to the United goal, but shouts for a penalty were turned down, after Brunt seemed to be pushed before going to head the ball in the back of the net.
The Blades were made to sweat even further, and Neil Warnock was fuming on the touchline. Long balls were being launched in to the United area, and Kenny failed to deal with one. Confusion in the United defence nearly saw the Owls grab a late equaliser, but Kozluk managed to hook the ball away to safety.
The Blades hung on for all three points, but in truth the game could have been done and dusted on the hour mark had it not been for bad missed from Akinbiyi and Dyer in the United attack. Luckily for the Owls, the five point gap between themselves and the bottom three remained the same, but they will have to improve in the up and coming games.
Could have positioned himself better for the first goal, but couldn’t do much about the second. Made some good stops to keep the scoreline at 2-0, but will have probably played in his last Wednesay game of the season -with a potential loanee ‘keeper in next week.
Has struggled in the last few games and was found out of position on a numbe rof occassions today.
Similar to Simek – found wanting a number of times. Should have cleared the danger before Akinbiyi bagged the second.
As usual, showed the amount of passion that the others around should do. Missing Woody in defende.
Struggled to cope with Akinbiyi, and was at fault with Gilbert for the Blades second goal.
I never like going as far as giving a player a two or three rating, but I very nearly had to today. Whelen needs dropping, and soon, if the Owls are to get back to winning ways. He gives very little to the team and has struggled to adjust to Championship life.
Not as bad as Whelen but was – and has been for some time – uneffective in the Owls midfield. Sturrock needs some new blood in midfield for next season.
After his early season good form, the Northern Irish international has struggled in a poor Owls midfield. Could have grabbed an equaliser, or a penalty, late on.
Probably the best of a very poor bunch of defenders. Does all the dirty work, and usually has to do most of Whelen’s work as well.
Still needs to get his full fitness back, but good to see him netting his first goal for the Owls this season.
Never really troubled the Blades defence as much as he should have done with his prescence. Only had one half-chance which he blazed over.
Never got in to the game, and made no different when he came on for Best.
Needs to be given a game sooner or later. The only player in the Wednesday team at present who can run at a defender and provide a decent cross.
Paul Sturrock told BBC Sport:
‘I’m very disappointed with our performance in the first half.
‘We’ve got a young team that didn’t react properly to a derby. The individual battles which had to be won all over the pitch, weren’t.
‘We chased the game and they had two or three glorious chances.’
Neil Warnock told BBC Sport:
‘It was a great team performance. It’s just a fantastic feeling to come to Hillsborough and win 2-1.
‘There’s no tougher game than coming to Hillsborough against the enemy.
‘I was told last week that Chris Morgan would not be available all week – but what a performance.’