Tired Owls fall down the derby pecking order

An Owls fan looks on anxiously
An Owls fan looks on anxiously
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Gulls flapped above the car-park at the Keepmoat Stadium, scavenging for something to eat.

Inside the ground Wednesday fought for scraps.

The banquet of Owls goals and exciting football was no more.

Seven goals against Birmingham and QPR; none against Doncaster, at a ground where Wednesday have failed to score or win in their three visits, and they are now the only team to be beaten twice by Rovers this season.

Maybe the Owls should have guessed it could be one of those days when, after jumping for a ball within seconds of the kick-off, Lewis Buxton lay hurt. He survived that scare.

Floodlights were on from the start, against a background of grey skies, as if guarding against gloom for either side.

The sell-out away following of 4,386 (official figure), more than a third of the attendance, intended to enjoy themselves. They chanted “USA” when Oguchi Onyewu hurled long thrown-ins, cheered when Rovers keeper Sam Johnstone kicked the ball out of the ground.

Two men in black, Stuart Gray, standing with arms folded, and Paul Dickov, retreating now and again to lean against the dug-out, occupied the technical areas - with Wednesday’s manager having the greater cause for satisfaction, for a time.

His team were the better side for half an hour or so. Buxton forced a save from Johnstone, but Leon Best’s inaccurate volley from Jeremy Helan’s cross raised the question that many would ask: “How did he miss that?”

Rain swirled down. Wednesday’s hopes of taking the lead were swept away when burly centre-forward Chris Brown tapped in one of the easiest of goals of his career. He seemed to look across to the linesman - so maybe Gray was not the only one wondering about offside.

Rovers fans found their voice; their team found new rhythm and intensity. The outlook for the home team was brighter, as the sun started to burn away the clouds and Gray made notes just before half-time, no doubt preparing his talk to the team.

It seemed that only I in the press box detected the smell of freshly-baked bread at this point, from whence hardly anyone seemed to know. If anything was a bit stale, it was the Owls’ game. Gray certainly suggested afterwards that maybe the efforts of the previous week had taken a toll; Rovers had no midweek match - Dickov watched the QPR game and thought the Owls were “outstanding”.

The attacking/creative stars of the club’s recent spell had a lean time on Saturday: Kieran Lee, Best, Atdhe Nuhiu, Chris Maguire, and Caolan Lavery, who had an off day, his worst moment a shot that went for a throw-in. He was taken off in only the 50th minute - something of a justifiable jolt on the day after his overall progress this season was rightly rewarded with a new two-and-a-half-year contract..

Blue sky and white clouds transformed the scene at the halfway mark but not Wednesday’s overall play, though Glenn Loovens’ class was a bright spot, and Sam Hutchinson added midfield bite after being sent on, with Liam Palmer switched to Lavery’s right-side role.

Johnstone and Chris Kirkland each made a great save, from Maguire and Billy Sharp respectively. Grey skies returned, Gray and Andy Rhodes got their heads together. Lee Bullen paced at the pitchside.

Wednesday were unable to get behind Rovers’ excellent back four often enough, and when they did the final ball went askew. Long balls to the front two had little effect, and neither did the inevitable introduction of JJ on the right wing.

It would not be a derby if tempers did not bubble up occasionally. Sharp, a target for flak from Wednesday fans, did something to enrage some of them and was spoken to by referee Mike Dean, with Rovers captain Richie Wellens in attendance.

Anger was also stirred when the mostly proficient Dean booked Hutchinson for a terrific, ball-winning tackle. Gray and Bullen were up in arms.

Rain came again to cool everybody down.

A dampener was also put on Owls efforts to keep some momentum going when an injury to Johnstone caused a long hold-up.

Kirkland rounded off his comeback by keeping a David Cotterill free-kick out of the top corner.

Those floodlights began to cast faint shadows as daylight slowly faded.

Five minutes of stoppage time expired and the rich pickings went to Rovers.