WEDNESDAY bowed to Championship class last night and gained some idea of the kind of challenges they will face next season if thee achieve their priority of promotion.
The only comfort from last night’s convincing defeat - only their second loss at home this season - is that there will be no further FA Cup affairs to stretch their squad or deflect their focus from the main job. As a League 1 outfit the Owls did well to reach the last 32; to a higher-quality Blackpool outfit goes the task of a tie at Everton in the fifth round.
A Blackpool side showing seven changes was better than a Wednesday side showing seven changes, and two of the goals were first class.
But maybe the game also showed how right Gary Megson and his staff are to stress the importance of scoring the first goal. The Owls should have been ahead inside two minutes but went behind in less than seven.
Ryan Lowe, after pinching possession, had Matt Gilks to beat from the edge of the box at the Leppings Lane end and hit a left-footer too tamely and straight at the keeper. A half chance set up by Morrison a minute later saw a Lines shot deflected for a corner.
But the visitors scored with relative ease. They were down to 10 men through injury when Clinton Morrison equalised in the first tie, and this time the Owls were effectively a man short with Liam Palmer flattened by a Lomana LuaLua shot on the edge of the box and lying there as Matt Phillips hit his 16th goal of the season, the effort from 22 yards none too powerful but running out of Stephen Bywater’s reach into his bottom right-hand corner.
The Championship side looked dangerous from the start and they made it 2-0 in the 14th minute with a splendid goal from Lomana LuaLua, the forward who had talks with Wednesday in August but wanted wages they could not afford.
There seemed not much on when, policed by Danny Batth, he had the ball his feet and slightly to the left of the Kop goal. Yet from 18 yards he curled the ball with his right foot into the far top corner and celebrated with a trademark somersault.
Wednesday were being outmanoeuvred through the middle by opponents playing their usual 4-3-3, and Megson in the early stages switched Reda Johnson to a defensive position in front of the back and pulled Julian Bennett back to left back.
Johnson also got forward and at times was the Owls’ biggest threat when the ball was played into the box. But Rob Jones, up for a Chris Sedgwick corner, came closest to scoring in the 34th minute when his powerful far-post header was stopped by Gilks, who like Bywater made important saves in the Bloomfield Road draw.
Ian Holloway had said he wanted his team to attack and make it entertaining; they were playing with virtually four forwards when they pressed: the two Phillips, Matt and Kevin; LuaLua and, on the right flank, Tom Ince.
Full back Bob Harris joined in and was brought down by Johnson in the last minute of the half - a 10th booking for Reda and an automatic two match ban. When Johnson was replaced by Jose Semedo at half time it was no reflection on his performance - it was doubtless to prevent him from being sent off.
But the team’s Cup campaign embedded further on the rocks thanks to another excellent goal.
Midfielder Ludovic Sylvester, a yard inside the left side of the box, and despite Batth trying to close him down, found Bywater’s top left corner with pace and clinical accuracy.
From that point, in the 54th minute, the game was beyond the Owls. They escaped when Matt Phillips, put through by LuaLua, shot wide.
Wednesday tried their best but could not cause Gilks any profound problems.
For the record, the changes in the starting line-up saw call-ups for Bennett, Jones, Lines, Palmer, Sedgwick, Morrison and Lowe.
Out went Semedo, David Prutton, Jermaine Johnson, Chris O’Grady, Gary Madine and the Cup-tied Miguel Llera and John Bostock.
Wednesday wore black armbands as a mark of Megson’s respect for the late Nigel Doughty, owner of his former club Nottingham Forest.
Owls match facts
OWLS: Bywater 7, Otsemobor 7, Batth 6, R Jones 7, R Johnson 8 (Semedo 7 ht), Sedgwick 6, Lines 7, Palmer 6, Bennett 6, Morrison 6, Lowe 6. Unused subs: Weaver, Buxton, Prutton, O’Grady, Beevers, Madine.
SEASIDERS: Gilks 7, Eardley 6, Wilson 6, Baptiste 7, Harris 7 (Dicko 85), Sylvestre 7, Martinez 6, Ince 7, M Phillips 7 (Bruna 76), LuaLua 8, K Phillips 7(Fleck 63, 6). Unused subs: Halstead, Taylor-Fletcher, Basham.
Bookings: Sedgwick, 26, R Johnson 45.