SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY: Sheffield Wednesday 2 Charlton 0
WEDNESDAY found the missing ingredient as they inched out of the Championship bottom three and sent their fans home happy.
Dave Jones had frequently remarked that though the team have battled this season and occasionally been unlucky they sometimes lacked a bit of quality at vital moments.
But the quality was there on Saturday: two goals of sheer class which drew admiration even from Charlton manager Chris Powell.
In between those early and very late strikes from Rhys McCabe and Jeremy Helan was a workmanlike, professional performance by the team to maintain hopes that this time they really are beginning to turn their season around.
A second successive clean sheet and second win on the trot also owed much to solid defending as well two debatable decisions just before half-time: the refusal of a penalty for a challenge by Reda Johnson on Yann Kermorgant, and the ruling out of a goal by Kermorgant’s strike partner, Danny Haynes, for offside.
If you were a Wednesday follower it was still hard to feel much sympathy for the infuriated Powell, whose protest to referee Gary Sutton on the pitch after the half-time whistle got him sent to the stand.
The Owls have suffered more and worse decisions than this in the first half of the season, and,even though they got the rub of the green with the goal at Barnsley as well, there is still a long way to go before the poor decisions against them are evened out.
“We should have had a minimum of 10 penalties this season,” said Jones.
“Maybe I’m getting that Christmas present nice and early.”
But whatever the controversies, the goals stole Hillsborough’s pre-Christmas show.
McCabe has often tried shots in the past, without any success. This one he caught perfectly. The ball was a blur as it sped into the roof of the net from his left-foot volley from 18 yards, after a Miguel Llera corner was deflected out to him. Powell said: “I don’t think many keepers would have stopped that, at any level.”
It was also important in setting the tone of the game. Helan’s goal, in the last of four added minutes, was the icing on the pre-Christmas cake. Starting on the left touchline, he used electric pace to beat one man, then knock the ball past the next defender and sprint around the other side of him, before drilling home his shot from an acute angle. “Terrific,” was how Powell described it.
In fairness to Charlton, they had been chasing the game at that late stage, and had more of the play in the second half than in the first. That’s where Wednesday’s stout defending came in; they also showed professionalism in keeping the ball near the opposition’s corner flags during the closing stages.
The dodgiest period for the Owls, as Jones observed, was probably during the first few minutes, when Charlton fulfilled Michael Morrison’s forecast that they would seek to seize the initiative.
Reda Johnson looked rusty in that period and was booked, but got back into the swings of things as the game wore on, and Wednesday had the better of the first half, earning the half-time applause from their fans.
Jones conceded that it was something of a gamble to play Johnson after his two-and-a-half-month lay-off with a foot injury and one warm-up outing of 64 minutes, in the under-21s.
The manager compensated by giving the left-back “protection” - with previous left-back Helan playing on the left side of midfield. Helan, more a defender these days, was signed by Manchester City as a winger, and his pace and touch going forward, as well his ability to track opponents and help the left-back, were useful on Saturday.
It was a similar story on the other flank once Charlton had started to throw caution to the wind in the second half, making substitutions and pushing men forward.
Kieran Lee was sent on to play in front of fellow right-back Lewis Buxton. But, like Helan, Lee also has a knack of going forward.
Lee’s arrival at the expense of Chris O’Grady meant an unusual switch up front for Michail Antonio, where his pace could be a threat for balls over the top. “It worked,” said Jones of the changes. “”If I’d listened to the guy behind me we’d have lost the game, with the people he wanted to put on! He didn’t hear him at full-time - he was quiet!”
An Antonio long throw led to a double escape for Charlton when it was 0-0: a shot by David Putton was saved, and Gary Madine’s attempt from the rebound was kicked off the line. Anthony Gardner, with an off-target volley, and Antonio, with a shot fired narrowly wide, had other first-half chances.
Wednesday escaped in the 61st minute when Haynes missed the ball a few yards out, and they were not so productive in the second half, but showed steel and organisation and made sure Chris Kirkland had virtually nothing to do.
Jones acknowledged that Gardner was “superb in the last two games. .. a very good player.”.
Prutton played his part throughout until he ran off for stitches in his nose, perhaps hoping to come back swiftly. But Chris Lines was sent straight on, in the 66th minute. Explained Jones: “I wasn’t prepared to wait; they were throwing men forward and we couldn’t let them get a foothold in the game.”
A few more wins in a hurry would do the Owls cause a power of good.
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Weather for Sheffield
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 9 mph
Wind direction: North