Steve Maclean’s injury-time penalty ensured Wednesday picked up their first three points of the year against relegation-threatened Southend – but the Owls should have been home and dry by half-time and once again looked frail at the back in the five-goal Hillsborough thriller.
Wednesday were desperate to bounce back from the midweek defeat at Luton, but were well aware Steve Tilson’s men were more the capable of leaving Hillsborough with all three points following their improved run of form and the fact that Wednesday hadn’t won a game on home soil since last November.
Iain Turner, brought in on an initial one-month loan from Everton on Friday, started in goal while Graham Coughlan returned to the back line, allowing Steve Watson to move in to the centre of midfield at the expense of Kenny Lunt.
There was no room for Steve Maclean either, who was dropped for Marcus Tudgay to partner Deon Burton in the Wednesday attack. Maclean dropped to the attack-looking bench, which also included David Graham, Leon Clarke, Yoann Folly and Chris Adamson.
Although the Owls may be playing ‘heart attack’ stuff at the moment, the team are certainly worth their admission fee in one way or another.
And the first half at Hillsborough was no exception, with the Owls bossing the half yet only taking a 2-1 advantage in to the break, when it could so easily have been five or six had it not been for the rash finishing in front of goal.
But it was the Shrimpers who carved out the first opportunity in front of goal when Richie Foran looked to be through on goal, only to be met by the giant figure of loanee Iain Turner who came racing from his goal to clear the danger with a neat block.
And Steve Tilson’s men fast-paced opening was rewarded on 14 minutes after Lewis Hunt was on hand to flick home a Lee Bradbury header from a Kevin Maher corner-kick. The Owls defence looked sixes and sevens for the set-piece, and the Shrimpers duly took advantage.
The majority of the 24,000-plus crowd at Hillsborough could have been forgiven for thinking it was more of the same from the Owls of 2007 – but it took just two minutes for Chris Brunt to swing a dangerous free-kick towards goal, only for Marcus Tudgay’s glancing header to find the back of the net and level the scores.
You’d have thought the goal would have lifted the hosts to the point that their first three points of the season were on the cards, against a Southend side that weren’t in the relegation places for nothing.
But instead, Tilson’s men continued to push forward and exploit the shaky Owls defence when Freddie Eastwood was thwarted at the back post by some frantic owls defending before Lee Bradbury headed wide when unmarked in the box.
And Chris Brunt made the visitors pay for their missed chances just before the hour mark as he raced clear down the left-hand side before launching a dangerous low cross to the near post which was unfortunately turned in to his goal by former Derby defender Spencer Prior.
This time, the goal gave Wednesday the confidence going forward and it so easily could have been game, set and match to Brian Laws’ men going in to the break.
Wednesday may not be the best side defensively at the moment, but going forward they’re still a force to be reckoned with, and the addition of ‘Speedy Gonzalez’ Jermaine Johnson from Bradford recently just adds to the attacking threat.
The Jamaican player has the ability to get people on the edge of their seats, and unlike Brunt on the left, has the ability to not only pass by players, but walk by them such is the pace the winger possesses in his locker.
And his pace almost gave the Owls breathing space minutes later as Glenn Whelan threaded a neat ball through the middle of the Southend defence, allowing Johnson to power by his marker – but was thwarted by the impressive Flahavan in the Shrimpers goal. Deon Burton pounced on the rebound but he fired his shot in to the side netting.
Marcus Tudgay also came close to doubling his tally for the afternoon minutes later as he thrashed an effort straight at the Southend stopped after good work by Brunt, before the Northern Irish international hammered the rebound in to the side netting.
Wednesday will have been wondering just how they didn’t extend their advantage going in to the break and Deon Burton again came close in the dying stages of the first half as his close-range effort rattled the crossbar after some good play in the Wednesday attack.
Half-Time: Wednesday 2-1 Southend
The game was in limbo going in to the second 45. Wednesday may have dominated the final 20 minutes of the first half and should have found themselves with more than a one-goal advantage – but the scenario was all too familiar for some fans, and an equaliser was on the cards from the off.
Southend introduced former Blade Simon Francis at right-back to give them a more attacking option at the back, and the visitors soon settled in to their stride and again came out of the traps the quickest.
But it was Francis who kept Southend in the game minutes in to the second half as the pace of Johnson saw him race by two United defenders before launching an effort on goal which was cleared by the right back.
The game was end to end throughout, and it was the Shrimpers who took advantage of the space on th hour mark as Freddie Eastwood produced a trademark finish after rounding Turner and slotting in to the empty net to the delight of the 800 or so Shrimpers fans that made the trip to S6.
And full praise must go to those fans, who never stopped singing throughout the match. It’s also not every day that you see a blue and white striped flag in the Leppings Lane end with ‘SUFC’ emblazed across it!
A lot of teams down at the bottom would have usually been grateful for a point away from home – not Southend, who continued to push the Owls all the way for the final half an hour, and if anyone looked like winning, it was the visitors.
Stopper Iain Turner was doing enough to impress the Owls faithful on his debut, and he twice thwarted the Shrimpers as they visitors started to grab a hold on the game. First the Scot denied a long-range Foran effort before Eastwood was denied from close-range.
But the loanee stopper thought he was beaten with 15 minutes to spare as Bradbury looked to have forced home a close-range effort only to see the linesman raise his flag for an offside decision.
Laws’ afternoon didn’t get any easier as he bemused the Wednesday fans with a substitution which saw Leon Clarke replace Chris Brunt, only for Marcus Tudgay to be moved to the left-wing. Steve Maclean was still sat on the bench, and it was only a matter of time before the Owls gaffer listened to the cries from the South Stand and introduced the Scot four minutes later to replace Deon Burton and partner Clarke in attack.
If anything, the changes seemed to cement the point rather than offer any kind of Owls win – until two minutes in to stoppage time.
Lewis Hunt – who gave the Shrimpers the early advantage – was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the box giving Steve Maclean the chance to give Wednesday their first three points of the year, and he duly obliged by continuing his impressive spot-kick stats and rattling the ball home to Flahavan’s left.
The decision was a harsh one on Southend, who must have felt they merited a point at least, but may just be the luck needed to boost the Owls and improve their form going in to the final hurdle of the campaign – and a big Yorkshire derby against Leeds United next Saturday.
Wednesday: Turner, Bullen, Coughlan, Simek, Spurr, Whelan, Brunt (Clarke 74), Watson, Johnson, Tudgay, Burton (MacLean 78). Subs Not Used: Adamson, Graham, Folly.
Southend: Flahavan, Wilson (Francis 46), Hunt, Prior, Sodje, Gower, Maher, Campbell-Ryce, Foran, Eastwood, Bradbury. Subs Not Used: Collis, Hooper, Harrold, Moussa.
Brian Laws told BBC Sport:
‘It was an important three points for us and a nervy one at that.
‘Thank God we’ve got our first win of the year – let’s hope we can go on from there and end the season well.
‘I was disappointed we didn’t score four or five given the chances we created. We had to work hard for it and it shows the players have some mettle.’
Steve Tilson told BBC Sport:
‘The lad is only two yards away – he has smashed it and it hit him. To lose like we did is a massive kick in the teeth for us.
‘There were some strange decisions for both sides. That decision at the end could cost us.
‘I thought we played some good stuff and had enough chances to win.’