Megson disappointed with Owls’ Jekyll and Hyde form
IF GARY Megson didn’t know before that he has got his work cut out to turn Sheffield Wednesday into a genuine force in League One, he certainly does now.
The Owls were given a footballing masterclass by a Brighton outfit destined for bigger and better things.
Championship football beckons for the runaway league leaders, who clinched an 11th win on the trot at the Withdean Stadium in all competitions and, despite the sweltering heat on the South Coast, hardly broke sweat.
Gus Poyet’s entertainers brushed aside toothless Wednesday with minimum fuss.
There is a feelgood factor surrounding the Seagulls.
Poyet’s men are one victory away from the second tier and head into a new state-of-the-art stadium next year.
By contrast, Wednesday remain some distance off being the finished article.
At times on Saturday, the gulf in class between the two sides was alarming. At times, it was men against boys.
Time and time again, the hosts effortlessly and elegantly passed it around Megson’s side, as the Owls were hustled and harried into mistakes, repeatedly coughing up possession. They were inferior in every facet of the game.
A third match in the space of a week had clearly taken its toll on Megson’s squad. The six hour coach journey to Sussex also did not help matters.
Megson said: “I’m not making excuses but we did play Tuesday. We won 4-0 and we worked our socks off against Tranmere Rovers and I thought today we looked leggy.
“Even if you are leggy, you have to be prepared to move into positions and pass like they did. Their full-backs near enough played as wide players. Lewis Buxton got forward once in the first half and Jon Otsemobor didn’t and in the second half I can’t remember either of them getting forward.
“We changed systems, playing two up front then one in the hole or three up front or three in midfield, but systems don’t win games it is players that do.”
Nonetheless, this was a major reality check following back-to-back home victories over Colchester United and Tranmere Rovers.
“I think it is arguably as poor as anything I have seen since I joined on February 4,” conceded Megson. “We didn’t pass the ball well and we didn’t compete well enough.
“I think maybe allowances have got to be made for the fact that we played midweek and they didn’t and that we had to traipse down here for six hours on Friday. But, aside from that, I think if you took it on today’s performance, I don’t think we would have one player who would get into Brighton’s team.”
Brighton won the midfield battle at a canter. Liam Bridcutt, on-loan from Chelsea, controlled proceedings alongside Gary Dicker.
Indeed, Megson altered the system two or three times in the first half alone in an attempt to combat Brighton’s free-flowing passing game. He moved Chris Sedgwick, recalled in place of Gary Teale, who was rested, inside to stiffen up the centre and give James O’Connor and Joey O’Brien added support but it made no difference.
Tommy Miller, who had recovered from a minor hamstring problem but was left out of the starting line up because of contractual reasons, was sorely missed.
Wednesday lacked bite, and apart from the opening quarter of an hour, showed the champions elect far too much respect throughout this one-sided encounter. Had Brighton taken more of the chances they created, it would have been a much heavier defeat.
The visitors forced Brighton goalkeeper Casper Ankergren, a promotion winner with Leeds United last term, into just one meaningful save. The Dane kept out Lewis Buxton’s stinging right foot effort in the 23rd minute after the makeshift left-back outfoxed Glenn Murray out wide.
Having spurned four opportunities, Brighton deservedly opened the scoring on the stroke of half time from the penalty spot. Danny Batth was adjudged to have brought down Murray, leaving Wood to slot home from 12 yards.
Megson said: “From my stand point, and I was 60 to 70 yards away, I didn’t think it was a penalty. I don’t know why he has given it but I don’t think we can deny that it was coming.”
My initial reaction was that there was contact. Television replays also seem to suggest Batth dragged Murray to the ground. It was just reward for Brighton, having outmanoeuvred and outplayed Wednesday in every department.
Neil Mellor and Clinton Morrison had to feed off scraps up front and it was only when Gary Madine was introduced late on that the attack started to perk up. Madine, whose younger brother was involved in a car crash last week, headed wide when well placed after an inviting cross from Jon Otsemobor.
Going forward, Craig Noone’s pace and trickery caused Otsemobor problems throughout while the visitors struggled to contain the lively Elliott Bennett, who operated in the hole behind strikers Murray and Wood.
Bennett capped off his superb individual performance by blasting an unstoppable right foot effort into the top corner to end any hopes of a late Wednesday fightback.
Victory over Dagenham and Redbridge tomorrow will seal Brighton’s promotion.
However, captain Gordon Greer will be suspended for the clash having received a straight red card following an off-the-ball incident late on against Wednesday.
Megson added: “They (Brighton) are good and that is why they are top of the league at this level. They have a system that they play and are comfortable with it.
“The two centre-backs split when they’ve got the ball and the two full-backs are prepared to push on and then get back.
“Bridcutt is a talented player in the middle of the park and he will get on it and the front three are a handful, especially Wood who they’ve got from West Brom.”
Brighton manager Poyet added: “It was one of our best performances in the last few months. If I need to pick our five best of the season, this is one of them for sure.
“The lads were up to it. They know we are close, they know everybody is getting very anxious and they went into it with the right mentality.”
There is no disgrace in losing to a Brighton, who have not lost on home soil in a more than a year.
But the manner of the defeat will have left a bitter taste in Megson’s mouth and given him plenty to ponder before for the final five matches, with Wednesday still not mathematically safe from relegation.
There were no positives. We’re a Jekyll and Hyde team big style.
Wednesday are too big a club to be in this division, but the fact is we are and we must deal with it.
Brighton are the best side I’ve seen and they’re not top of the league for nothing.
They look comfortable in possession, in their passing and support play. In possession we didn’t support the ball anywhere near as well as Brighton did.
After two good home wins we didn’t play as we can do.
It’s frustrating for everyone and it’s important we put this one to bed by doing a lot better in our next game.
It was as bad a performance as I have seen since I have been here but I don’t want to take any credit away from Brighton because I think they are the best team I’ve seen in this division.