Two goals from Marcus Tudgay and a trademark Steve Maclean penalty gave managerless Wednesday a close-fought victory over John Gregory’s rejuvinated Queens Park Rangers side at Hillsborough on Saturday.
But the occassion was more than just the three points for Owls fans who turned up at S6 early to protest underneath the South stand about the sacking of Paul Sturrock on Thursday. Hundreds of fans turned out voice their concerns over the way the club is run – with the protest continuing throughout the match and afterwards.
But the team – and caretaker manager Sean McAuley – still had a job to do with the Owls in danger of returning in to the relegation zone should results go the wrong way. An immediate bounceback from the humiliating 4-0 defeat at Colchester in midweek was planned.
McAuley made a number of changes to the midweek side – as a furious Paul Sturrock had promised to do immediately after the defeat – with Deon Burton returning to the starting line-up to partner Marcus Tudgay with Steve Maclean dropping to the bench.
Chris Brunt, Kenny Lunt and Tommy Spurr were also recalled to replace Lee Bullen, Burton O’Brien and Graham Coughlan respectively. Madjid Bougherra was given the captains armband.
Former boss Sturrock had predicted an Owls victory in his radio interview the previous day, but it looked like it was going to be anything but a victory for a nervous Owls side in the opening exchanges of the match.
On-loan ‘keeper Brad Jones was forced in to an early save in front of the R’s fans after the Wednesday defence allowed Lee Cook to run and launch a powerful strike towards goal. Former Southampton man Dexter Blackstock also saw two chances comfortably saved by Jones.
But for all their pressure it was the Owls who opened the scoring. In previous games it would be Wednesday’s frustration in front of goal that cost them points – but this time the clinical finishing of Tudgay saw them take an early advantage.
The Burton and Tudgay partnership seemed to re-kindle on 13 minutes as Burton slipped an inch-perfect throughball for Tudgay to latch on to – and the former Derby man neatly tucked his shot in to the bottom corner in front of the Wednesday kop.
And although Owls fans and players alike were overjoyed by the 1-0 lead, songs of ‘Allen Out’ and ‘Sack The Board’ echoed round Hillsborough to make sure their protest was know to be well and truly against the board – and not against the team.
The goal lifted the Owls and the confidence seemed to be oozing through the team – although the opposition from Loftus Road was to e the poorest at Hillsborough so far this season.
Tudgay almost nicked in to double his tally for the afternoon but Damion Stewart made a timely interception from Wade Small’s dangerous cross. And Small then himself had a golden opportunity to make it 2-0 from just six-yards out but he sliced his effort wide of goal from a John Hills cross.
Wednesday’s pressure finally paid off in first-half stoppage time as Tudgay netted his second of the season with a downward header by Paul Jones from a deep John Hills cross. Indeed, the goals for the former Derby frontman came like the proverbial London bus – none this season then two in the space of half an hour.
Half-time: Wednesday 2-0 Queens Park Rangers
Wednesday fans may well have been thinking the game was well and truly wrapped up going in to the second-half – but Wednesday couldn’t have got off to a worse start in the second half as they let their 2-0 cushion slip within the space of eight minutes.
An embarassing defensive mix-up as captain-for-the-day Bougherra and Brad Jones failed to communicate at the edge of the box, resulting in Jones clearing the ball straight to Lee Cook who duly supplied Dexter Blackstock to make it 2-1.
And just minutes later Blackstock doubled his tally for the afternoon as Cook’s deep cross was bundled by Jones in front of the Wednesday kop.
But where Wednesday could have fallen down and collapsed in the past, they regained their belief and the stubborn defence led by Bougherra snubbed out any further chances for the visitors.
Wednesday regained the lead with 20 minutes to go as substitute Steve Maclean, complete with new shaved head, latched on to a neat throughball and was felled by Wales international Paul Jones as he rounded the former Southampton man.
Maclean stepped up to take the penalty himself and, as always, neatly netted to make it 3-2.
Wednesday had further chances to extend their lead and put a gloss on the victory through Wade Small and Bougherra – who saw his goalbound header cleared off the line by an R’s defender. Marcus Tudgay was also thwarted as he looked to net his hat-trick.
Maclean will have wondered how he missed after Wade Small had sliced an effort from a Frankie Simek cross and the former Scunthorpe United man lashed his shot over Jones’ bar from just yards out.
But Sean McAuley’s men held on for the vital three points which sees the gap widen from the bottom three after all three lost. The win puts an end to an extraordinary week at S6, but may be just the beginning of the fans’ protesting against the current board.
John Gregory told the official QPR site:
Sean McAuley told the official SWFC site:
‘We should focus on the performance of the players – they need to take all the credit. When somebody scores two against you in quick succession it can harm you. But they kept a belief in themselves and pushed on. It showed a lot of character and good mental strength.
‘Marcus went out and gave 100 per cent, and got his reward with the two goals. He formed a good relationship with Deon Burton and then Steven MacLean. That can only be good for the future for the club.’
Marcus Tudgay told the official SWFC site:
‘Heads could have gone down and we could have gone under but the boys dug in. Macca came on, ran his heart out and got a penalty, did a striker’s job and put it in the back of the net.
‘Deon played a clever ball into me, I took it my path and hit it with my left foot, just concentrating on hitting the target. I did that and it went in. For the second, Brunty played it back to Hilly who dug it out deep, it hung up at the back and I threw myself at it.’
John Gregory told the official QPR site:
‘I thought it was a cast iron penalty from the touchline, but Jonah and the rest of the lads have assured me there was no contact. Jonah told me he got a foot on the ball and their lad made the most of it.
‘We were very nervy at times at the back. We’ve basically gifted them three goals by giving away possession in silly areas and you just can’t afford to do that at this level.”