Wednesday’s poor start to the new year continued at Hillsborough on Saturday afternoon as they fell to a crushing 4-2 defeat against Roy Keane’s in-form Sunderland side in front of a bumper 29,000 crowd.
The Owls struggled to get anything from the match after being left with just one defender on the pitch, captain Lee Bullen, following injuries to Madjid Bougherra, Richard Wood and John Hills and the suspensions of Tommy Spurr and Frank Simek. Stand-in left-back Burton O’Brien limped off injured on the half hour mark while Graham Coughlan also went off injured in the first-half to leave midfielders Glenn Whelan, Yoann Folly and Chris Brunt plugging the gaps.
Even so, Sunderland were one of the better sides to make the trip to Hillsborough this season and were well worthy of all three points on a cold afternoon in S6.
Despite the injury and suspension problems for Owls boss Brian Laws, it was Wednesday who made the brighter start to the match as Marcus Tudgay almost stole in to net from close range but his effort hit the side netting.
But Roy Keane’s men soon upped their gear and took the game to Wednesday as they seemed to want the ball more and were a good yard and a half quicker than the Owls all over the pitch.
And it was Stephen Elliott who got the first opportunity in front of goal for the visitors – backed by a superb 6,000-strong following from the North East – but Graham Coughlan intervened to thwart the danger.
The game was interrupted shortly after as a Sunderland fan took to the pitch and seemed to goad the Owls fans. In typical Wednesday fashion, the stewards failed to act quickly enough and two Owls fans promptly entered the playing field and attacked the Sunderland fans. Wednesday are likely to hear more from the authorities in the coming days.
But the fast-paced start suited the visitors more than Wednesday and Dwight Yorke took advantage of the Sunderland pressing on 20 minutes after former Manchester United midfielder Liam Miller put him through and he produced a sublime finish to open the scoring.
The goal lifted Roy Keane’s men and they almost doubled their advantage minutes later as Stuart Elliott saw his close-range effort come back off the woodwork despite being in an offside position.
Brian Laws was forced to change his hand on the half hour mark as stand-in left-back Burton O’Brien was forced to leave the field through injury which saw Chris Brunt move to the left-back role, Marcus Tudgay move to the left-wing, and new signing Leon Clarke come on to make his debut in attack alongside Steve Macelan.
And things were made even worse for Wednesday minutes later as Graham Coughlan – standing in for Madjid Bougherra – took a knock from a Sunderland set-piece and had to leave the field of play. With no further defensive options on the bench, the Owls had to move Glenn Whelan to the centre of defence and bring youngster Sean McAllister in to the centre of the midfield.
Wednesday fans would have been relatively happy to see their side go in just the one goal down at half-time considering the circumstances, but the game looked wrapped up in first-half stoppage time as Hysen slotted home from close range after good work by Dean Whitehead.
Half-Time: Wednesday 0-2 Sunderland
If things couldn’t get any worse for the bumped Wednesday crowd inside Hillsborough – they did. The half-time entertainment revolved around Sheffield band ‘Saxon’ attempting to break a world record for the most people playing air guitar.
Such was the disappointment inside the ground – apart from the 6,000 or so Mackems in the Leppings Lane end – hardly anyone joined in, yet the band were still awarded the world record by officials!
Owls boss Brian Laws knew the game could well be out of the grasp of his side but he wanted them to go out and ‘win the second half – which they almost did.
Sunderland looked relatively happy to sit back on their advantage in the knowledge that their hosts were down to their bare bones, and it meant neither side came close to scoring in a poor second-half.
And the defeat was secured on the hour mark as Hysen raced clear and provided former Leicester City hitman David Connolly with an easy goal to make it 3-0 to the visitors. Connolly looked to be in an offside position at the start of the move but the linesman deemed him not to be interfering with play – before he calmly slotted the ball by Mark Crossley.
The goal prompted many Owls fans to start leaving their seats early to avoid the traffic after the match, but Wednesday did still manage a late fightback which could have even given them a share of the spoils – even though they never seemed to be in the game.
Sunderland stopper Darren Ward gave his wife and her family – die-hard wednesdayites – something to cheer about late-on as Chris Brunt’s long-range free-kick somehow went in between his arms and Deon Burton pounced for what looked like a consolation goal for the Owls.
And that consolation goal became what looked like could be a great comeback for the hosts as Wade Small further reduced the deficit with two minutes remaining after Marcus Tudgay saw his initial shot well saved.
But it wasn’t long before the Black Cats regained their two-goal advantage as former Luton Town winger Carlos Edwards nicked in to secure the victory after former Owls-loanee Darryl Murphy provided the assist for an easy finish.
Full-Time: Wednesday 2-4 Sunderland
Wednesday: Crossley, Bullen, Coughlan (McAllister 37), O’Brien (Clarke 30), Folly, Whelan, Lunt, Brunt, Small, Tudgay, MacLean (Burton 62). Subs Not Used: Adamson, Graham.
Sunderland: Ward, Evans, Whitehead, Nosworthy, Collins, Edwards, Hysen (Wallace 90), Yorke, Miller (Leadbitter 63), Elliott, Connolly (Murphy 75). Subs Not Used: Fulop, Varga.
Brian Laws told the official SWFC website:
‘I rarely look for excuses but we were up against it before a ball was kicked. No one wants to lose but Real Madrid and Barcelona couldn’t win with three midfielders in their back four. It wasn’t a true reflection of our team.’
‘Credit to them for making a game of it,’ he said. ‘They didn’t drop their heads and they kept going. I’d praise them for their attitude and application.’
Roy Keane told the official SAFC website:
‘We encouraged them and it really annoyed me, we got away with it. We get the third and you think it’s game over, but then we give them the encouragement to get back in it, we were sloppy.
‘We made it hard for ourselves; I was disappointed with the team performance in the second half.
‘We made it a difficult situation by giving the ball away. If we keep passing it and doing what we are doing, we win the game easily.
‘The players took it into their own hands to start running with the ball and they stopped doing what we had told them. On another day, we might not have won.
‘The game should have been dead and buried, no excuses. We expect more, we expect better. It was not good enough, certainly in the second half.
‘The game’s 90-odd minutes long and you cannot switch off for 10 minutes. When we perform well enough, results will come our way; but today we got away with it, it was unacceptable.’