Abysmal. Embarrassing. Shambolic. Dire. Inept.
Any of the above words could be used to describe Sheffield Wednesday’s first-half defensive horror show in their thrashing at Bristol City.
Wake-up calls don’t come much bigger than Saturday’s mauling. Everything unravelled in alarming fashion.
Before heading to Ashton Gate, you would never have guessed the Owls boasted the joint-fourth best defensive record in the division. The Robins turned on the style and Wednesday simply could not contain their dynamic front four of Lee Tomlin, Bobby Reid, Luke Freeman and Jonathan Kodjia.
The hosts played above themselves. Wednesday uncharacteristically dropped their high standards.
After four wins on the spin for Carlos Carvalhal’s side, nobody saw this off-day coming.
It is easy in the media to go overboard after a shocking result. The fact is, all teams are entitled to the occasional bad performance.
By and large, the Owls have been outstanding under Carvalhal and consistently picked up points, which is why they are firmly in the promotion hunt.
I criticised the team after losing away to Charlton Athletic and MK Dons and I’m not going to hold back in this report after another side battling to avoid the drop comfortably turned them over.
Wednesday’s pre-match preparations were thrown into chaos as Glenn Loovens and Gary Hooper failed to shrug off ankle and foot injuries respectively while Ross Wallace was deemed fit enough only for the bench.
It turned out that was a precursor for what was to come.
An eagle-eyed Owls fan spotted around an hour and a quarter before kick-off that Wednesday had originally named six loan players in their matchday squad. Michael Turner, Daniel Pudil, Alex Lopez and Aiden McGeady started, with Vincent Sasso and Joe Bennett selected on the bench.
Football League rules stipulate that five is the maximum that can be named in a squad.
After Wednesday learned of their error, Jack Hunt was quickly drafted in at the expense of Bennett. It was a lucky escape and could have been very costly.
“The person who did the teamsheet made a mistake and we corrected it,” Carvalhal told The Star.
It isinexplicable how that happened in the first place and we might not have heard the last on this mix-up.
What further disrupted the Owls’ plans was first-choice shot-stopper Keiren Westwood pulling out in the warm-up due to illness. Joe Wildsmith was given the nod despite having been left out of the original 18! You just couldn’t make it up.
The confusion over the team and Westwood’s late withdrawal set the tone for a bizarre opening 45 minutes.
As Carvalhal pointed out, it could have been a different story had Aiden McGeady put the visitors ahead in the early stages after seizing on a weak pass by Robins skipper Korey Smith, but the Republic of Ireland international was foiled by Richard O’Donnell, a boyhood Wednesdayite.
Barry Bannan flashed a 25-yard free-kick narrowly wide as Carvalhal’s men dominated proceedings.
The Owls head coach said: “If we had scored first, maybe it could have been a completely different game.
“Our confidence would have have been up and it would have been more difficult for them as they would have had to come at us. We will never know.”
McGeady’s miss proved a big turning point as the Robins took the lead in the 10th minute, Tomlin volleying in after a fine delivery by Adam Matthews. There was a fair amount of debate over who scored the opener as Michael Turner’s attempted clearance near the goalline hit Liam Palmer and flew in, but Bristol boss Lee Johnson, formerly of Barnsley, said: “It’s definitely Lee Tomlin’s goal. The ball had already crossed the line before it ricocheted off their defenders.”
Tomlin’s strike rocked Wednesday and three minutes later the hosts doubled their lead. A quickly-taken free-kick caught the Owls napping and Reid rifled an unstoppable right-foot shot past Wildsmith after a neat cut-back by Freeman.
It was game, set and match three minutes before the interval as Tomlin slotted home from 12 yards after Palmer brought down the Bournemouth loanee.
“We started strongly, moving the ball well and creating good chances,” said Carvalhal. “We managed the ball well. We had two very good opportunities.
“I think the players thought it was going to be easy after the opening 10 minutes and their heads went into the clouds. In this competition, you can’t live in the clouds and all the time we must put our feet on the ground. We must run and fight a lot.
“The first time Bristol went to attack, they scored and it was a little lucky because it touched a lot of players before going through to the goal.
“It was hard to understand the first half. After the second goal we lost control of the game and Bristol deserved to be three goals up.”
Wednesday restored some pride after the restart when City had made it four, pulling one goal back and tightening things up as a defensive unit, but the damage had already been done.
Results elsewhere helped soften the blow of this dismal outing. Nonetheless, Carvalhal gathered his players on the pitch after the final whistle and ordered them all to acknowledge their 1,467 fans who made the long journey from South Yorkshire.
They had let them down big style. Now it is all about how they respond to this reality check.
Bristol City: O’Donnell 8; Matthews 7, Flint 8, Baker 7, Bryan 7; Smith 7, Pack 7; Freeman 8, Reid 8 (Odemwingie 71), Tomlin 8 (Wagstaff HT, 7); Kodjia 8 (Agard 83). Subs: Fielding, Pearce, Little, Golbourne.
Wednesday: Wildsmith 5; Palmer 4, Lees 5, Turner 4, Pudil 4; Lee 5, Lopez 5 (Joao HT, 5), Bannan 5, McGeady 5 (Wallace HT, 5); Forestieri 5, Nuhiu 5 (Matias 57, 5). Substitutes: Price, Sasso, Hunt, McGugan.
Referee: Charles Breakspear (Surrey).
Attendance: 15,854 (1,467).