Sheffield Wednesday must wish they could play away from home every week.
Stuart Gray’s troops maintained their fine form on the road, recording a 2-0 victory at Birmingham City last night after second-half goals by Stevie May and sub Jeremy Helan.
The result stretched the Owls’ unbeaten away run to five matches as they registered their sixth clean sheet of the campaign.
Wednesday were thumped 4-1 at St Andrew’s a year ago so it just goes to show the progress they have made under Gray. They visibly grew in confidence after the interval, taking control of the middlefield battleground, leaving them with just one defeat from their opening nine fixtures.
Gray restored Glenn Loovens to the starting line-up following the Dutch centre-back’s one-match suspension for five bookings. The skipper replaced Kamil Zayatte, who dropped to the bench, at the heart of their rearguard. Guinea international Zayatte was unlucky not to start after his solid display in the draw at Bolton Wanderers.
Hallam Hope, on loan from Everton, was left out of squad, having failed to shrug off a hamstring problem.
There was an early scare for the Owls as David Davis and Wes Thomas combined to feed Clayton Donaldson in the third minute but the former Brentford striker lashed his shot over when well-placed.
After a good spell of pressure, Jacques Maghoma drilled a shot straight at Darren Randolph as the visitors quickly regrouped.
Atdhe Nuhiu came close to his fifth goal of the campaign in the seventh minute after he peeled away to the back post to meet Chris Maguire’s lovely cross only to send his right foot volley inches off target.
Birmingham posed a threat from set pieces i, with captain Paul Robinson, handed a first-team recall due to Grant Hall’s groin injury, stooping to head David Cotterill’s corner just wide.
Liam Palmer launched a long diagonal ball up to Nuhiu on the quarter of an hour mark and he neatly picked out Maghoma, who blazed over.
Birmingham were forced into a defensive reshuffle after Neil Eardley picked up an injury, giving Jonathan Spector an opportunity to impress in the right-back berth.
Cotterill, formerly of Doncaster Rovers, can be tricky on his day and cleverily wriggled his way past Joe Mattock on the left before whipping in a dangerous cross which Wes Thomas nodded over.
Brek Shea, who had a loan spell at Barnsley last season, fired a left foot shot into the side-netting after good play out wide by Donaldson as Birmingham continued to ask questions of Wednesday’s defence.
Gray’s side had a huge let off in the 32nd minute when Paul Caddis unleashed a rasping 25-yard effort which struck the post and bounced to safety.
Thomas nearly capitalised on a poor headed clearance by Loovens only for Westwood to come to the rescue, with the Republic of Ireland international making himself big to block the player’s goal-bound strike.
David Edgard became the first player to be shown a yellow card after a late tackle on Nuhiu near the half-way line.
The interval came at a good time for the visitors, who were outplayed in all departments in the first half.
Maghoma led a rapid counter attack after the re-start, shrugging off the attentions of Paul Caddis and he freed Maguire, who burst infield and flashed an effort wide.
It was Maghoma who almost opened the scoring in the 48th minute. Liam Palmer’s long range shot was only parried by Randolph but Maghoma, from an acute angle, struck the left-hand post.
Although Birmingham threw on talented youngster Demarai Gray at the expense of Shea, Wednesday continued to look menacing and Maguire sliced a left-foot half volley from just outside the penalty area well wide.
May was left shaken after a thunderous challenge by Robinson, a tackle which infuriated Wednesday’s bench as they thought it warranted a caution. Nuhiu was booked for protesting too vociferously with referee James Adcock.
Ultimately, May had the last laugh as he gave Wednesday the lead midway through the half, firing a low right foot effort past Randolph after being fed by Nuhiu. It is the Scotland Under-21 international’s second goal in Owls colours since moving south of the border from St Johnstone in an £800,000 deal.
All the momentum was with the visitors and Royston Drenthe, a second-half replacement for Giles Coke, squared to Maghoma, who lifted his right foot drive over.
Cotterill showed nimble footwork to set up a good opportunity for Davis but he steered his attempt well over.
Birmingham wasted another chance in the 79th minute following a poor clearance by Maghoma from Cotterill’s free-kick, with Caddis’ shot superbly blocked by Wednesday sub Gary Madine.
But Wednesday were much improved in the second period and Drenthe latched on to Jose Semedo’s glorious crossfield pass and looked to put the Blues on the back foot when he went down under a challenge by Robinson in the area but his penalty appeal was flatly turned down by Adcock.
Helan added extra gloss to the scoreline in the dying minutes, side-footing Maguire’s lovely centre.
Goals: May 67, Helan 89.
Birmingham (4-4-2): Randolph; Eardley (Spector 16), Edgar, Robinson, Grounds; Cotterill, Caddis, Davis (Gleeson 79), Shea (Gray 54); Donaldson, Thomas. Substitutes: Doyle, Duffy, Reilly, Shinnie.
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Westwood; Palmer, Lees, Loovens, Mattock; Maguire, Semedo, Coke (Drenthe 63), Maghoma; Nuhiu (Madine 74), May (Helan 80). Substitutes: Kirkland, Buxton, Zayatte, Dielna.
Bookings: Birmingham - Edgar 41 (foul), Robinson 58, (handball)
Owls: Nuhiu 61 (dissent)
Referee: James Adcock (Nottinghamshire)