Late heartache but Sheffield Wednesday are ready for the derby: Cardiff City 1 Owls 1

Wednesday concede in the dying seconds. Pictures: Steve Ellis
Wednesday concede in the dying seconds. Pictures: Steve Ellis
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A heartbreaking, frustrating end to an encouraging week.

Deep into added time in South Wales, the Owls were on the brink of securing a third Championship victory in a row.

Gary Hooper celebrates his goal

Gary Hooper celebrates his goal

Leading 1-0 courtesy of Gary Hooper’s deft 39th-minute header, Wednesday looked set to move within striking distance of the league leaders.

And more hoodoos would have tumbled in the process. Had they held on for maximum points, it would been the Owls’ first clean sheet in 10 league visits to Cardiff, a first win at Cardiff since April 2007 and a first away victory over a Neil Warnock team in more than 26 years.

But Sol Bamba broke the Owls’ hearts, tapping in Nathaniel Mendez-Laing’s low centre after Keiren Westwood dived to his right to keep out Lee Tomlin’s curling free-kick.

Westwood, Daniel Pudil and Ross Wallace appealed in vain for an offside flag as Bamba wheeled away in celebration. Boss Carlos Carvalhal felt Bamba’s goal should have been chalked off but he refused to blame that decision for the Owls failing to see the match out.

Steven Fletcher spurns a great chance

Steven Fletcher spurns a great chance

“It looked offside but was a very hard decision for the linesman,” he conceded.

“Before the game, most of the teams in the Championship will say a draw in Cardiff is good and not a bad result.

“After the game, we are disappointed because we lose two points.

“The performance was great. We managed the ball and played at a high standard.

Agony at the end

Agony at the end

“With the way my players played and the quality we put out on the pitch, we deserved three points. It is why I’m a little disappointed with the score.”

THE MATCH

Bamba’s late equaliser shouldn’t detract from a good Wednesday showing.

Carvalhal’s troops were superb in the first half and earned their lead. They were solid and compact defensively, dominated possession and were a handful offensively.

Joost van Aken impresses again

Joost van Aken impresses again

Hooper’s fourth goal in as many matches was no more than they deserved. It was a fine free-flowing move involving Joost van Aken and Adam Reach. Van Aken confidently brought the ball upfield before freeing Reach down the left.

He whipped in a magnificent cross which Hooper glanced in. It is the first time Hooper has scored in four consecutive league matches since February 2008.

Warnock, who spent more than seven years in charge of Sheffield United, said: “We were disappointing in the first half. We carried on where we left off at Preston. We were on the back foot.

“Wednesday looked like they sat back after getting the goal, but if they’d had a go at us we were vulnerable, so I was delighted to get to half-time at 1-0.”

Carvalhal warned his Owls players to expect a physical, bruising encounter in the Welsh capital and Cardiff raised their game after the restart.

It is safe to assume Warnock gave his team a rollicking at the interval, and Wednesday were forced to soak up a lot of pressure.

Carlos Carvalhal with Neil Warnock

Carlos Carvalhal with Neil Warnock

Mendez-Laing switched flanks and looked way more dangerous on the left.

After Lee Peltier sliced a clearance narrowly over his own crossbar, Mendez-Laing and Junior Hoilett threatened to restore parity.

But the Owls stood up well to the Bluebirds direct approach, defending heroically at times. Centre-backs Tom Lees and van Aken were commanding and aggressive in the air and on the floor. Their partnership offers so much hope for the future. Kenneth Zohore rarely troubled either Lees or van Aken, prompting Warnock to bring the talented Danish forward off before the end.

The Owls handled everything a strong, robust Cardiff team threw at them.

TURNING POINT

Carvalhal’s team could have extinguished the home side’s hopes of a comeback in the 70th minute.

Yet again van Aken underlined his vision, technique and diverse passing range. The Dutchman has bags of potential and his long, raking pass released Steven Fletcher, who brilliantly controlled the ball after shrugging off the attentions of Bamba. Fletcher went for power rather than placement with his effort and his rasping left-foot drive flew over.

If that had gone in, it would have been all over, and I was staggered Channel Five left that out of their highlights show on Saturday night.

Carvalhal said: “We scored one goal and thought we could achieve a second.

“We had the best opportunity to kill the game with (Steven) Fletcher and at that moment we must finish the game.”

It was a battling, tenacious second-half display full of excellent individual performances but the Owls needed a second goal to kill off Cardiff’s resistance. They lacked a killer instinct and Bamba made them pay.

Carvalhal said: “It’s football that Cardiff achieved the draw and I am still waiting to win a game in the last minute that we don’t deserve to win. But this will happen in the competition, I’m sure.”

ROLL ON SUNDAY

It was not the perfect way for Carvalhal to celebrate his 100th league match in charge but he should be happy with how the team are progressing.

His side were disciplined and gave as good as they got against a Cardiff side who will be difficult to beat on their own turf this season and look capable of challenging for promotion.

A big response was required after the first international break and Wednesday have duly stepped up to the plate, accruing seven points out of a possible nine.

Conceding so late made it feel like a defeat but a point on the road should never be under-estimated.

The Owls are seven matches unbeaten in the second tier. More importantly, they have momentum for the big one next weekend.

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