As away days go, this will take some topping.
Claude Dielna’s last-minute winner will live long in the memory and sparked jubilant scenes among the 1,500-plus travelling supporters. Atdhe Nuhiu and Royston Drenthe led the celebrations at the final whistle as Sheffield Wednesday savoured every moment of their first success at Ewood Park since 1999.
Given the array of attacking talent Blackburn Rovers possess, this was, without question, Wednesday’s best result of the campaign. They manfully stuck to their task to condemn Rovers to just their second home defeat in the Championship since March.
Sometimes you’ve got to dig in away from home, roll your sleeves up and grind out a result. All 14 of Wednesday’s players battled hard in the second half as Rovers cranked up the pressure. This was a victory for organisation and discipline.
That’s not to say Wednesday completely rode their luck. Stuart Gray’s troops were excellent in the opening quarter of an hour. They really took the fight to Rovers and could have scored after 90 seconds but recalled goalkeeper Jason Steele made a smart double save to deny Jeremy Helan and Stevie May.
It is strange how things pan out in football. Kieran Lee started only due to Jose Semedo’s one-match suspension. But the midfielder took his chance to impress, tapping in a third minute opener after Steele failed to hang on to May’s effort from an acute angle. It was Lee’s first goal since the final day of last season.
Head coach Gray said: “It’s pleasing to see Kieran out on the pitch again. He was cramping up in the last 10 minutes and he got a nose bleed. Part of the midfield man’s job is to break into the box so he’s gone and supported Stevie May, who had a shot and it dropped to him.
“It was a fantastic finish by Kieran. He doesn’t score many but it was nice for him to get off the mark.”
Gray described Alex Baptiste’s 15th-minute equaliser as “sloppy”. The full-back raced on to Jordan Rhodes’ neat knockdown and scuffed a shot past Keiren Westwood.
Buoyed by his double against Wigan Athletic, May troubled Blackburn’s centre-backs Shane Duffy and Grant Hanley with his pace and movement all afternoon. Steele pushed his low strike out for a corner after the Scotland international shrugged off the attentions of Duffy.
“Our game-plan was for Attey to drop into the number 10 role and Stevie to play on the shoulder,” admitted Gray. “Stevie got in three or four times in the first half.
“He will probably be disappointed he’s come off without a goal. His sheer effort, commitment and willingness to close defenders down and to chase lost causes helped us to get the win.
“Stevie will prove to be a bargain for the club. We need to create more chances for him. He comes alive in the box. He’s always on the move. We got into three or four good positions in the box where we just needed that final pass to pick him out.”
There was a danger Wednesday would lose their rhythm after Lewis McGugan was taken off on a stretcher following a lengthy stoppage after a clash of heads with Lee Williamson. The Watford loanee had dovetailed effectively with Lee prior to going off. His withdrawal meant Gray had to rejig the team around, switching Helan into the centre and throwing on Joe Mattock at left-back.
Gray conceded: “I couldn’t believe the referee didn’t give a foul, but my concern was with Lewis as soon as it became clear he was knocked out.
“He’s come round, in a neck brace as a precaution, but fingers crossed he will be okay. I was really pleased and relieved to see Lewis take his place on the bench in the second half.”
Moments after McGugan’s departure, Rhodes glanced a header against the left-hand upright before Glenn Loovens nodded over Drenthe’s free-kick in an entertaining finish to the half.
When Rovers breached Wednesday’s back four after the re-start, the ever-reliable Westwood came to the visitors rescue, turning away Duffy’s downward header and tipping over substitute Ryan Tunnicliffe’s venemous volley.
It seemed destined to finish all square after David Dunn’s shot turned cross drifted agonisingly off target.
However, Dielna, with one of his first touches of the ball, broke Rovers’ hearts in added on time. There was a big slice of good fortune in the Frenchman’s first goal in English football. He exchanged passes with Lee and unleashed a left -oot drive which looped over Steele with the aid of a deflection off Corry Evans.
Gray actually put Dielna on to give Wednesday extra defensive solidity in midfield!
“I imagine that goal will give Claude great confidence,” said Gray.
“He’s had to be patient. We had to get him up to match speed. We’ve got a good defensive record but I know he can play at left-back, centre-back or sitting in midfield. I threw him on in the end because I just felt he could give us more defensive qualities.”
It is fine margins at this level between success and failure. Wednesday did not get many breaks during their 11-match winless run yet luck has gone the team’s way in the victories over Wigan and Blackburn.
Gray said: “These things even themselves out through the season.
“At Huddersfield, we had a stonewall penalty turned down, we hit the post and the bar with the same shot but then had that little bit of fortune against Wigan.
“Blackburn had some fortune last week at Middlesbrough when they scored in stoppage time and we’ve got a late one today. I will take it all day long because it happened to us at home to Millwall when they scored with the last kick of the game.
“I feel for Gary Bowyer (Blackburn manager) and it’s a horrible feeling because I’ve recently been there myself.”
“I’m happy with the win,” he added. “The players put unbelievable shifts in. Performance wise, we probably have not got the results we deserve and killed teams off. We have been drawing far too many games.
“What we have got to do is make sure is we build on this result and don’t throw all this hard work away against Wolves.”
Blackburn: Steele 6; Baptiste 7, Hanley 6, Duffy 6, Olsson6; Conway 6 (Dunn 82***), Evans 6, Williamson 6 (Tunnicliffe 66*, 6), Marshall 6, Gestede 5 (Brown 66**, 5), Rhodes 6. Substitutes: Eastwood, Varney, Taylor, Songo’o.
Wednesday: Westwood 7; Palmer 6, Loovens 6, Lees 8, Helan 7; Maguire 7, McGugan 6 (Mattock 35, 6), Lee 7, Drenthe 6 (Lavery 76): May 7, Nuhiu 6 (Dielna 90). Substitutes: Kirkland, McCabe, Maghoma, Corry.