Match analysis: Sheffield Wednesday 1 Blackpool 0 - Owls made to work for ‘must’ win

Chris Maguire scores from the spot
Chris Maguire scores from the spot

In Stuart Gray’s eyes, beating Blackpool was an absolute must.

Ultimately, Sheffield Wednesday achieved his objective, but the Championship’s bottom club made them work hard for the three points.

Relieved smiles for Liam Palmer and Jose Semedo after the Owls held on to beat Blackpool

Relieved smiles for Liam Palmer and Jose Semedo after the Owls held on to beat Blackpool

It was a hard earned win and arguably their most important result of the season.

Chris Maguire’s controversial 39th minute penalty ensured the Owls claimed their third home win.

He slotted home from 12 yards after Peter Clarke was adjudged to have bundled over Stevie May in the area.

For Blackpool boss Lee Clark, it was a soft penalty.

Santa delivered three points for the Owls

Santa delivered three points for the Owls

He said: “The linesman gave it. The referee took a while to make the decision. Peter Clarke said to me he didn’t make contact with the player. I would need to see it from a better angle.

“We are not getting the rub of the green at the moment. I think the least we deserved was a point.”

A relieved Gray was delighted the call went in Wednesday’s favour.

He said: “I don’t think Stevie May is the type to go down. We were relieved to get it and we kept the ball alive in the box.

Tom Lees stops Ishmael Miller in his tracks

Tom Lees stops Ishmael Miller in his tracks

“Maybe we haven’t had that luck in the past. I’ve often said that these things balance themselves out.”

Wednesday’s win should have been more emphatic. May, Lewis McGugan and Royston Drenthe all spurned glorious opportunities to put the contest out of Blackpool’s reach in the second half.

Nobody should forget Keiren Westwood’s contribution in the Owls’ success.

His superb reflex save to keep out Ishmael Miller’s header in the 73rd minute will live long in the memory.

Gray said: “We had some good play and got into some good areas.

“We should have got the second goal to give ourselves some breathing space so we could enjoy the last 10 minutes. I thought Stevie was unlucky with his header. It was a great save.

“Then again we were relying on Keiren Westwood to pull off a fantastic save to give us two points.”

Gray had to make one enforced change to his back four, with skipper Glenn Loovens failing a fitness test on a hamstring injury he picked up in their 4-0 defeat at Fulham last weekend.

His absence meant Jose Semedo took the captain’s armband and that Claude Dielna came in for just his second league start since moving to Hillsborough in August.

Gray decided to freshen up his midfield, recalling Drenthe at the expense of Kieran Lee.

Maguire, playing in the number 10 role behind Stevie May, looked keen to prove a point in the early stages, sending a 25-yard free kick inches over the top after a clumsy challenge by former Sheffield United full-back Tony McMahon on Jeremy Helan.

As has been the case for much of the season, Wednesday lacked a cutting edge in front of goal.

May sneaked in behind Blackpool’s rearguard in the 14th minute following a slick move involving Semedo, Maguire and Drenthe near the half-way line only for the Scotland international to lift his effort over the advancing Joe Lewis and into the away end.

There has been very little for followers of Blackpool to cheer over the festive season.

They prop up the Championship table, one of their players has gone AWOL and Karl Oyston, the club’s chairman, is currently being investigated by the Football Association for sending abusive texts to a fan.

But despite their problems on and off the field, Blackpool could have taken the lead when the lively Jacob Murphy surged forward at pace before steering a right foot drive narrowly off target.

Maguire, looking dangerous in possession, registered the first shot on target mid-way through the half after cutting in from the right flank but his tame strike was comfortably gathered by Lewis.

Murphy continued to cause Wednesday’s back four problems, forcing Keiren Westwood into a routine safe following another mazy run.

For all their possession, the Owls struggled to break down a resolute, dogged Blackpool outfit.

It seemed inevitable the visitors would go into the half-time break unscathed until Maguire’s penalty.

Clarke was penalised for bringing down May and referee James Adcock, after consulting with his linesman, pointed to the spot.

Maguire kept his cool from 12 yards, sending Lewis the wrong way. It was only the second penalty Wednesday have been awarded this season.

Moments after Maguire’s penalty, Wednesday survived a big scare as Chris Eagles caught their defence napping only to fire wide when he should have done better.

Buoyed by Maguire’s goal, the Owls pressed for a second and May headed Liam Palmer’s teasing centre off target.

Nathan Delfouneso, brought on for the injured Steve Davies in the 28th minute, threatened to restore parity after the re-start, turning sharply before seeing his fierce attempt acrobatically pushed to safety by Westwood.

Then Wednesday enjoyed a good spell of pressure, creating several good opportunities to double their advantage.

First, Maguire’s dangerous low centre was deflected on to the crossbar by Donervon Daniels after yet more patient build up play.

May ought to have forced Lewis into a save but nodded over following another great delivery by Palmer.

Drenthe, oozing class and confidence on the ball, fed Lewis McGugan in the 53rd minute but his poor first touch enabled Lewis to race off his line and dive bravely to snuff out the danger.

Miller joined McMahon and Clarke in the referee’s notebook after handling Eagles’ cross into the net.

Wednesday needed a second goal to kill off Blackpool’s resistance and May almost came up trumps.

The diminutive striker rose to meet Drenthe’s cross with a firm downward header which Lewis superbly pushed on to the post and out for a corner.

It wasn’t just Lewis performing heroics. Westwood produced a miraculous save with 17 minutes remaining.

The Republic of Ireland international some how thwarted Miller, blocking the forward’s header from point blank range after a great cross by Delfouneso.

Things became a little scrappy and disjointed in the closing stages, with Helan firing straight at Lewis when well-placed.

Blackpool’s misery was compounded in added on time when Miller was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence as their search for an away win goes on.

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