Frustration, disappointment and dissatisfaction were the overriding emotions of Wednesdayites filing out of Hillsborough at around 5pm on Saturday night.
There is no disgrace in losing to a Brighton and Hove Albion side who will be in the thick of the promotion battle come next May. They finished third in the division and 15 points better off than the Owls for a reason last year. And the Seagulls missed out on a top-two finish only on goal difference.
But Wednesday, particularly on home soil, are doing themselves no favours by taking so long to get going.
The hosts paid the price for a flat and pedestrian start when Sam Baldock delicately and expertly chipped the ball over Keiren Westwood after latching on to Lewis Dunk’s sublime defence-splitting pass with the outside of his right foot to put Brighton in front after 26 minutes.
It was a lead the Seagulls fully deserved following a lively, enterprising start. Oliver Norwood was also denied by Westwood, Jamie Murphy clipped the outside of the post with a cross turned shot and Glenn Murray saw his volley ruled out for offside, an effort eagulls chief Chris Hughton felt should have stood.
Tom Lees, on his 100th Wednesday outing, had his header from Ross Wallace’s corner brilliantly cleared off the line by Norwood before Brighton dangerman Anthony Knockaert grabbed the killer second with 17 minutes remaining.
The Seagulls sat back and invited pressure on in the dying embers of the contest and substitute Gary Hooper bagged a late consolation for the Owls, but Hughton’s side were worthy winners.
STARTING TOO SLOWLY
This was the fifth home match on the spin that Wednesday have fallen behind in. It is a worrying pattern and the team’s play was ponderous, predictable and lacked urgency in the opening 40 minutes. It’s like they seem to start playing only after going a goal down.
The Owls got away with making sloppy, sluggish starts against Wigan Athletic, Bristol City and Nottingham Forest, but Brighton are a different beast altogether.
In centre-backs Dunk and Shane Duffy, Brighton had the two best players on the pitch. Both were strong, resolute and put their bodies on the line for the cause. They barely gave Steven Fletcher a sniff.
While Dunk and Duffy produced commanding displays at the heart of their rearguard, Steve Sidwell controlled the midfield and the mercurial Knockaert always looked a threat in the final third.
At this level, you can’t afford to give the top teams a head start but that’s exactly what Wednesday did and they paid the penalty.
The hosts improved before the interval and Carlos Carvalhal claimed they should have been awarded a penalty, believing full-back Gaëtan Bong charged down Jack Hunt’s fierce shot with his hand after David Stockdale had fumbled Adam Reach’s effort. Television replays were inconclusive.
With Westwood forced off with a leg injury, academy graduate Cameron Dawson made his Owls first-team debut. The 21-year-old, who enjoyed a short-team loan stint at League Two outfit Wycombe Wanderers earlier this term, acquitted himself well. His handling was solid and there was nothing he could do to stop Knockaert converting Bong’s neat centre.
Carvalhal said: “Cameron is a calm goalkeeper that we trust. He did okay.
“We have very good goalkeepers.”
To the hosts’ credit, they kept on going after Knockaert’s fifth goal of the campaign and Wallace was foiled by Stockdale before Fletcher’s deflected low shot went inches wide. Reach, utilised in his preferred left-wing role, missed a sitter before Hooper reduced the deficit after Forestieri was denied by the agility of Stockdale.
STILL PROBLEMS TO RECTIFY
You would think Wednesday’s season is all over judging by the reaction of some fans on social media. It was a disappointing, frustrating performance and result but it is still early days. There will be plenty of twists and turns over the coming months so people shouldn’t go overboard.
Brighton executed their game-plan to perfection and are the best side I have seen the Owls play. Hughton’s side are solid, well-drilled and have several match-winners in their ranks. Sometimes you have to give credit to the opposition.
As for Wednesday, they are struggling to keep clean sheets and lack a cutting edge.
You do wonder why Carvalhal opted to make so many changes after back-to-back wins. Some of his five alterations were enforced but why leave out Liam Palmer, Will Buckley and David Jones after a decent away showing at Blackburn Rovers? They certainly missed Jones’ experience in the centre.
A big improvement will be required if the Owls are to pick up a positive result at leaders Huddersfield Town in their next outing.