Wednesday comeback heroes left cursing as Elliot wonder save denies striker Paul last-gasp winner in Hillsborough thriller
PAUL Heffernan thought it was in; so did Alan Irvine, so did I, so probably did thousands of Wednesday fans as the ball seemingly headed towards the corner of the Kop end goal.
It was a header by Heffernan in the last of four added minutes and if he had scored from James O’Connor’s cross it would have made the Owls’ comeback one of the most dramatic seen anywhere this season.
How did the ball stay out? Because of the fingertips of Rob Elliot, the keeper who was Nicky Weaver’s understudy at Charlton and eventually took his place.
Heffernan reflected on the moment when victory slipped agonisingly away and the Owls had to be satisfied with a 2-2 draw:
“When I headed it, I thought it was in; the keeper got a little touch on it, and even then I thought it was in; it hit the inside of the post and rolled across the goal. I was gutted.
“I don’t know how the keeper did it. I said to him after the game: ‘Great save.”
So a thriller of a match ended with a touch of anti-climax.
For after they had gone two down in the first six minutes, grown anxious and missed a penalty, Wednesday stormed back in the second half and looked capable of grabbing the win that would have taken them above the Addicks.
Instead, they slipped down another place in the table, to ninth - which underlines the mighty task they face if they are to finish in the top two - and left Irvine admitting: “I feel as if it’s two points lost, deep down.”
And Heffernan said: “I’ve got mixed feelings. We came back from two down but, the way the game went, we’re disappointed not to have won.
“We weren’t on top of our game in the first half. The gaffer had a few strong words. He wanted a reaction. It worked; we came out much stronger and more positive. If we play like that, we’re going to give teams a lot more problems.
“When we came in at half-time, the gaffer said to me: ‘Get yourself ready; you’re going on in the second half.’ You don’t want the team to be losing, but I want to play, and it’s always nice to score.”
Many fans have wondered why the striker has not had more chances in the team; the simple answer is the form and goals of Neil Mellor and Clinton Morrison.
But what a topsy-turvy game football can be. Mellor and Gary Teale, two of the second-half stars of the Jekyll and Hyde show at Bristol City, were taken off at half-time on Saturday after the Owls had struggled to break Charlton down.
Enter Heffernan again, to score confidently for the second successive home game, and Jermaine Johnson, who provided a vital attacking spark.
Many other players enjoyed improved second halves: for example, Chris Sedgwick, Reda Johnson, Darren Purse, Daniel Jones.
New boy Johnson looked more and more a powerhouse centre-half as the game went on. His header from a Purse free-kick, then a pass forward to Heffernan, after a touch by Sedgwick, made the opportunity for the sub striker to control the ball and volley into the roof of the net - a huge lift for the Owls in only the second minute of the half.
Then four minutes later Johnson scored like a centre-forward, heading a fine cross by Sedgwick into the bottom corner - after Joe Anyinsah outdid Purse and missed a simple chance to make it 3-1.
The sombre mood of the first half vanished; the crowd urged Wednesday on, and Charlton had to survive some intense pressure.
Irvine said: “Reda has made a terrific start. Everyone’s taken to him. He’s made a couple of mistakes, which we’ve talked to him about and hopefully we’ll eradicate. His goal was a bonus.
“I think Michael Morrison [right back] has had a very good start as well, out of position.”
It was defending that occupied Irvine’s mind after that shocking start. Charlton’s first goal came from a long ball; the crosser was under no pressure; Christian Dailly left Johnson to be first to the ball and headed down into the box; Scott Wagstaff got goalside of Sedgwick and shot home.
The second goal came from a simple punt downfield. Anyinsah ran past Johnson but Purse covered. The skipper looked favourite to clear but ended up lunging into a tackle that resulted in Charlton’s penalty.
The Owls’ spot-kick opportunity came from a more innocuous incident, with centre-half Gary Doherty apparently the one penalised after Reda Johnson had tried to meet a Teale free-kick.
It was a good save by Elliot rather than a bad miss by Tommy Miller; the 31st penalty of the midfield player’s career and the first time he had failed to score.
Miller cannot have been more frustrated than Heffernan, after that last-minute drama.
The striker’s final reflection was on the team’s below-par first half: “At Bristol it was one of the best performances of the season; we hadn’t played here for five weeks yet we start like that..
“We have to be more consistent.”