Match Verdict & Highlights: Brighton 0 Sheffield Wednesday 0
Five matches without a win hardly constitutes a crisis.
But Wednesday’s Premier League challenge has definitely taken a hit in recent weeks.
This is, undisputedly, the best Owls side since the club dropped out of the top-flight 16 years ago. There is a genuine belief that this could be their year.
Yet they are going through a bit of a sticky patch, culminating in them nervously looking over their shoulders. They remain in sixth position, although Ipswich Town and Birmingham City can leapfrog them if they win their games in hand.
The timing of their blip will be of big concern to Carlos Carvalhal and his coaching staff. It is imperative they quickly stop the rot if they are to realise their top-six ambitions.
The worrying thing is that the goals have dried up.
The draw at Brighton was the fourth time they have fired blanks in their last five outings.
However, in the wind and rain at Brighton, Wednesday put in a strong showing and fully deserved their point.
It is important to stress that Brighton are no mugs. They entered the contest having triumphed in six of their previous nine fixtures. Chris Hughton’s automatic promotion-chasers had won four on the spin in their own backyard, netting 12 goals in the process.
This was a tough assignment but Wednesday more than matched the Seagulls and will feel a little aggrieved, on the balance of play, that they didn’t leave Sussex with maximum points.
Marshalled superbly by Glenn Loovens, the Owls produced a dogged, gritty display and had the better chances. Their finishing after the interval let them down.
As per usual, Carvalhal kept everyone guessing with his team selection. He made six changes to the side beaten at home to Rotherham United last weekend, handing recalls to Liam Palmer, Loovens, Joe Bennett, Marco Matias, Sam Hutchinson and Lucas Joao.
While Ross Wallace, Daniel Pudil and Atdhe Nuhiu dropped to the bench, Jack Hunt, Michael Turner, and Aiden McGeady didn’t even travel south.
It was a big call by Carvalhal to change three of his back four for the second match running away from Hillsborough. The clean sheet vindicated his decision.
Heavy traffic due to a number of accidents on the roads delayed kick-off by 15 minutes.
At a rain-lashed Amex Stadium, both sides struggled to adapt to the tricky conditions. It was a cagey opening consisting of heavy touches and wayward passes.
Cheered on by over 1,400 fans, Wednesday called David Stockdale into action in the 13th minute, forcing the Brighton shot-stopper to bravely collect a dangerous Liam Palmer centre following a promising counter attack by the visitors.
Moments later, former Sheffield United star Jamie Murphy came close to opening the scoring for the Seagulls. The Scot’s deflected long range piledriver drifted agonisingly over the top, much to Wednesday’s relief.
Hutchinson added some much-need bite to the Owls’ midfield engine room. He broke things up and helped disrupt Brighton’s rhythm.
Defensively Wednesday looked well organised and tried to make life difficult for the Seagulls without really carrying much of a goal threat themselves.
Joao, given a chance to impress from the start after his eye-catching cameo against the Millers, became the first player to be yellow carded in the 37th minute after a slight kick out at Connor Goldson. Official Darren Drysdale had a quiet word with the Portugal international, who, on another day, could quite easily have been sent off for such petulant behaviour.
Then again, Wednesday were due a refereeing decision going in their favour after several hotly-disputed calls.
The onus was on Brighton to find a way through Wednesday’s stubborn rearguard. Hughton’s in-form side enjoyed the bulk of possession and Murphy flashed a shot narrowly wide from just outside the penalty area.
Without influential top-scorer Fernando Forestieri, who was completing a two-match suspension, the Owls lacked imagination or penetration in the final third. Kieran Lee, utilised on the right flank, dragged a shot harmlessly off target following a deft lay off by Gary Hooper in a rare moment of quality from Carvalhal’s side.
Six minutes the re-start, Barry Bannan showed his nimble footwork by cleverily engineering some space for himself. He turned Steve Sidwell sharply before seeing his curling left foot drive brilliantly kept out by Stockdale. That’s how long it had taken for either side to register a shot on target.
It took a fine last ditch challenge by Goldson to stop Bannan breaking clear after some lovely build-up play as Wednesday started to gain the upperhand.
In the driving rain, the Owls continued to press for the opener and Stockdale could only parry Bannan’s rasping effort.
The result extended Wednesday’s impressive unbeaten run against Brighton to seven matches. It just could have been so much more.
Brighton: Stockdale; Bruno, Dunk, Goldson, Rosenior; Knockaert (Zamora 67), Stephens, Sidwell, Murphy; Hemed (LuaLua 69), Baldock (Wilson 76). Substitutes: Maenpaa , Greer, Bong, Kayal.
Wednesday: Westwood; Palmer, Loovens, Lees, Bennett; Lee, Hutchinson, Bannan, Matias (Wallace 82); Joao (Nuhiu 65), Hooper. Substitutes: Price, Sasso, Pudil, Lopez, McGugan.
Attendance: 26,128 (1,453)
Referee: Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire)