We finally did it! The Owls picked up their first clean sheet of the year as a Frank Simek strike followed by an unfortunate own goal gave the Owls all three points on a relatively comfortable match against Colchester on Tuesday night.
Geraint Williams’ men were out of form coming in to the game and looked a long shot for the play-offs – but the mid-table clash didn’t stop the Owls producing a fine display as they made amends for the 4-0 drubbing at Layer Road which ultimately cost Paul Sturrock his job.
Many fans may have been expecting a dull affair ala last weeks encounter with Plymouth Argyle – and it showed with the lowest crowd of the season at Hillsborough, 18,572 – but it was a night of fine individual performances and a sense there is still life in the Owls yet as they season begins to draw to a close.
Owls boss Brian Laws gave Peter Gilbert his first start for the club in over a year with young Tommy Spurr dropping to the bench to be ‘rested’.
And the former Plymouth and Leicester left-back more than staked his claim for a regular slot in the starting eleven with a superb performance which helped the Owls claim their first clean sheet in three months.
The balance on the left was obvious from the off, with Gilbert linking up well with Brunt, defending his lines superbly, and even managing to string the odd pass or two together! As expected, he tired towards the end but will be hopeful of a start against Wolves on Saturday.
Chris Brunt also rolled his sleeves up – literally in the second half – to give the Owls faithful one of his best all-round performances of the season.
Nothing to do with the scouts that were supposed to be watching you on Saturday I hope Chris?
Nevertheless, if they were watching, they’d be very happy at what they saw.
The Ulsterman turned up in force to lead the Owls forward with his trademark crossing and long-balls, and he was unfortunate not to get on the scoresheet late on as he low shot fired back off the inside of the box and back in to the Colchester stoppers arms.
The evening also saw the introduction of hot academy prospect Rocky Lekaj – who may have only got six minutes or so on the pitch – but showed enough to warrant future appearances, from the bench at least, for the remainder of the season.
The Owls started as they meant to go on early doors as Deon Burton split the U’s defence just minutes in before providing a superb through-ball for Kenny Lunt to latch on to. But the former Crewe man, replacing the injured Steve Watson in the centre of the park, failed to reach it.
Burton was a man who looked to be playing for a new contract in the summer, and after carving open the U’s defence early on, he then twice went close, firstly with a wild swing of his left foot before thrashing a 20-yard volley in to the side netting.
Strike partner Steve Maclean however, didn’t have one of his better games for the Owls and will more likely be shipped out than offered a new contract should Laws judge him on tonight’s performance – hopefully not.
And despite Burton and Brunt’s emphatic start to the match, the Owls opener came through the most unlikely of sources as right-back Frank Simek netted just his second Owls goal on 27 minutes.
Marcus Tudgay – playing wide on the right in the absence of Jermaine Johnson and Wade Small – broke free and linked well with Simek to allow him to launch a powerful shot on goal which was blocked – but the American followed up and rifled an unstoppable effort by the Colchester stopper.
And it was 2-0 just eight minutes later – and it again came from an unexpected source for the Owls, in the form of a Matthew Mills own goal.
The on-loan Manchester City man headed in to his own goal from a dangerous inswinging Chris Brunt corner – with the Northern Irish winger taking all the credit.
Colchester did have a chance to get themselves back in the game before the break as Kevin McLeod managed to break the Owls offside trap before finding on-loan Everton stopper Iain Turner in top form as he turned his shot away with his legs.
Half-Time: Wednesday 2-0 Colchester
The second half was a less entertaining affair, with the Owls seemingly looking towards keeping their first clean sheet of the year rather than extending their lead and piling more misery on the small band of Colchester fans that had made the long journey up.
Brunt continued to impress on the left-wing and his dangerous cross after the break almost allowed Marcus Tudgay to head home but the Colchester defender was well positioned to clear to safety.
Richard Wood also came close for the Owls but his looping header drifted just wide of the goal from Gilbert’s dangerous cross from deep.
Wednesday’s advantage never looked under pressure in the second half as Colchester failed to reproduce any of the heroics of Layer Road many months ago, but Ephraim had the best chance as he curled his shot in to the side netting of Turner’s goal.
And if anything, Wednesday should have extended their lead late on as Brunt found space inside the box to turn and lash a powerful low effort against the woodwork before the ball kindly fell in to the hands of Gerken in between the sticks for Colchester.
There was further interest for Owls fans in the last five minutes as Laws introduced youngster Rocky Lekaj on to the right hand side of midfield. The youngster has been tipped for a big future for the club and did no harm for another sub appearance before the end of the campaign with his efforts.
Brian Laws told the official SWFC site:
‘I thought it was a good performance today. Last time they played Colchester they got a good hiding and it stuck in their throats so they wanted to prove a point.
‘There was some good football from us tonight, we got an early goal and the players seemed to take a lot on board of what we have been asking of them. It was a nice performance to take us into the top half and it keeps our run going.
‘They were all on the front foot and it was a comfortable win in the end. We should have scored more goals but sometimes you get a fortunate second goal and we deserved the result overall.’
Geraint Williams told BBC Sport
‘It’s tough enough to come to Hillsborough without gifting them a two-goal start.
‘But that’s exactly what we did in the first half. They didn’t have to do an awful lot to be two goals in front and that’s disappointing.
‘We’ve given ourselves a mountain to climb and we didn’t have a cutting edge going forward.’