New boys help stunning Owls turn on cup style as boss marks year at helm
IT IS time for Wednesday to take a bow after bringing down the curtain on Alan Irvine’s first year in charge.
Barbara Windsor, playing Fairy Bowbells in Dick Whittington, cannot have put more smiles on faces at the Bristol Hippodrome than the Owls inspired among their travelling faithful.
Milan Mandaric, who watched Saturday’s FA Cup tie from the Ashton Gate directors’ box, saw the Owls steal the show with a stunning second-half display.
Mandaric’s declared aim is to make the fans happy; well, more than 1,300 of them will have gone home to Sheffield talking about one of the team’s best spells of the season, produced on the anniversary of Irvine’s appointment.
There were times in the first half when the game was a cliff-hanger.
City were the better side in this period, as befitted a team who had drawn and won against the Championship’s top two, QPR and Cardiff, in their previous two outings.
The Robins would have had a half-time lead had it not been for missed chances, a goal-line clearance from James O’Connor and a save from Nicky Weaver.
But Wednesday grabbed the spotlight with a brilliant recovery; they not only scored three excellent goals but could have had more and richly deserved their first fourth-round entry in 10 years.
Irvine’s tactics and four changes also paid off once the team had had a chance to settle down.
Left-side centre back Reda Johnson, all arms and legs, won headers and challenges and showed that he is no slouch on the deck.
Fellow debut-maker Michael Morrison prefers to play at centre-half but gave an assured, disciplined performance at right-back.
The two new lads’ contribution was all the more impressive considering that they had little time to train with their new teammates.
There were also terrific second halves for players such as Daniel Jones, who made two chances and one goal, and Neil Mellor, who scored one goal and created one.
Irvine thought that the breakthrough goal was a turning point, coming in the 49th minute: “Goals change games.”
But the Owls were at City’s throats in the first minute of the half, after Clinton Morrison won the ball off a defender and started an attack that resulted in only a deflection robbing Tommy Miller of a goal on his 32nd birthday.
Then a great cross from Chris Sedgwick set up Gary Teale’s bullet header, which went in off the underside of the bar. “I’m not renowned for scoring with headers, so I’m delighted with that one,” said the winger.
Another ball from Sedgwick set up a opportunity that was curled wide by Mellor, but the striker notched his 13th goal of the season with an emphatic downward header from a fine cross by Jones, and was absolutely top drawer in the way he made the third goal.
Mellor turned past his marker, sprinted down the left, and played the perfect low cross across the six-yard box for Morrison to slide in and bag his eighth of the season.
Just before that, Sedgwick knocked a close-range chance over the bar from another excellent cross by Jones.
Nicky Weaver did his bit, denying City a consolation goal by pulling off two saves in the closing stages.
Irvine, as well as being thrilled by his team’s second-half onslaught, was pleased with the way they kept the home side out, with Jones and Teale nullifying the threat from right winger Albert Adomah, and Sedgwick and Morrison quelling Jamal Campbell-Ryce on the opposite flank.
“We were conscious of the threats that they posed, but in fact we created more than they did,” said the Owls manager.
In playing Johnson as well as Morrison, who replaced the injured Jon Otsemobor, Irvine reasoned that it was a chance to begin bedding them in when there were no league points at stake.
He picked Jones at left-back rather than Tommy Spurr: “Daniel was terrific. Defensively it was his best performance for us.”
And Sedgwick got the nod over Jermaine Johnson on the right wing because of his reliable workrate and ability to help out against Campbell-Ryce in a tricky away game.
Irvine, who also left out Mark Beevers, said: “Reda heads it a long way, probably further than I can kick it now. He’s a threat in the opposition’s box, and defends very well in ours.
“Right-back is not Michael Morrison’s favourite position but he understands that we needed him there, and he defended very well.
“Campbell-Ryce was very quiet, and that was down to Michael and to Chris Sedgwick; I played Chris because of his work ethic, and as the game went on we also got it together going forward.”
Morrison said: “It was a difficult game; Bristol City have been doing really well; it was my first game and Reda’s first game; it’s hard to fit into the team straight away.
“It was nice for him and me; I was really impressed with the team, and it was a good win and performance.”
“Darren Purse is an experienced player and I was looking forward to playing next to him. He’s a good leader.
“I have to thank Chris Sedgwick: he worked his socks off;.
“Reda is a big guy. He wins his headers. I was impressed with him. He settled in really well.
“I was surprised with how hard the team worked. I’ve never played in a team that’s worked that hard.”
Irvine praised Mandaric’s “huge” influence in clinching the Morrison deal with Leicester and confirmed that more new players are in the pipeline: “It’s been hectic and it’s
going to be a busy period.
“I’m having to make a lot of calls, along with Milan, who has been working tirelessly to help strengthen the squad further.”