All good runs eventually come to an end.
Mid-table Sheffield Wednesday suffered their first defeat in 11 matches against Norwich City to conclude an unhappy Easter programme yesterday.
It is the first time since 2002 Norwich have triumphed in their own backyard over the Owls and, in truth, they were superior in every department.
Bradley Johnson’s first half doubled boosted the Canaries promotion aspirations and illustrated how much Wednesday have still got to improve to become a major force at this level.
The gulf in class was there for all to see and it was hardly a surprise given Norwich’s wage bill and budget is one of the biggest in the division. They have also got the luxury of receiving parachute payments and retained a big proportion of the squad which was relegated from the Premier League last season.
But take nothing away from Canaries boss Alex Neil. He has done a sterling job in transforming their fortunes. Since the former Barnsley midfielder’s appointment in January, the Canaries have picked up 39 points from a possible 51 to move them into the top two places.
With Jose Semedo injured and question marks over Sam Hutchinson’s capabilities to play twice in the space of three days, Wednesday head coach Stuart Gray opted to hand Filipe Melo his first start since arriving from Portugese side Moreirenses for an undisclosed fee at the start of February.
Claude Dielna was preferred at centre-back to Kamil Zayatte, who has only recently recovered from a hamstring problem.
Gray also freshened up his forward line, bringing in Chris Maguire at the expense of 10-goal top-scorer Atdhe Nuhiu.
It didn’t take long for Melo to make his presence felt. He was yellow carded in the early skirmishes for a robust challenge on Martin Olsson.
From the resulting free-kick, Norwich had a strong penalty appeal turned down when Dielna appeared to tug Cameron Jerome’s shirt and pull him down but referee Carl Boyeson was not interested.
It took a fine block by Melo to prevent Steven Whittaker from having a sight a goal as the Canaries piled on the pressure.
Keiren Westwood was called into action for the first time in the 10th minute when he pushed away Alexander Tettey’s fierce half volley after more good approach play by the hosts.
Against the run of play, Wednesday almost caught Norwich napping as Lloyd Isgrove robbed Olsson of possession just inside his own half to break clear but he fired wide from an acute angle.
Cheered on by over 1,500 Wednesdayites, the visitors wasted a glorious opportunity to break the deadlock in the 15th minute when Marnick Vermijl floated in a teasing delivery which found Caolan Lavery unmarked 10 yards out only for the versatile forward to plant his header off target.
Tettey and Lewis McGugan were cautioned after clumsy tackles on Isgrove and Olsson respectively as things briefly threatened to boil over.
It was easy to see why Norwich are near the top of the table. Some of their passing and movement off the ball was of the highest standard and Scotland international Whittaker blazed over following another fine move involving Jonny Howson and Wes Hoolahan.
Just when you thought Wednesday had withstood Norwich’s onslaught, Neil’s men took the lead courtesy of Johnson. The midfielder outjumped Vermijl to nod home after Isgrove failed to clear his lines following persistent play on the right flank by Whittaker.
With their tails up, Norwich went for the jugular. Vermijl hacked away a dangerous Tettey centre before Hoolahan jinked his way past three Wednesday defenders only to see his drive narrowly deflected wide by Joe Mattock.
It proved to be a short reprieve as the Canaries doubled their advantage on the stroke of half-time, with Johnson smashing a left shot out of Westwood’s reach following a corner by Graham Dorrans.
That was hammerblow to Wednesday’s chances of maintaining their good record at Carrow Road, where they had won on their previous four visits, and prompted Gray to make a double change at the interval. Nuhiu and Lewis Buxton were brought on for Isgrove and Vermijl to give them some much-needed experience.
Those changes did not alter the pattern of the contest and Johnson’s rasping piledriver was well held by Westwood.
Norwich dominated possession and territory and rarely looked in any danger of throwing away their two-goal cushion.
In a rare foray forward, Kieran Lee dragged an effort well wide from distance but Wednesday lacked the quality or imagination to break down Norwich’s well organised, obdurate backline.
For much of the Easter Monday fixture, Wednesday struggled to contain Jerome, who led the line intelligently, and Hoolahan, who had licence to roam and cause havoc in the ‘hole’.
With 12 minutes remaining, Howson flashed a shot over the top as Norwich continued to press for a third.
To compound Wednesday’s problems, they finished the Championship tussle with 10-men as Dielna limped off with a hamstring problem.
Things could have got even worse for the Owls in the 84th minute but substitute Nathan Redmond drilled a shot inches wide after another speedy counter attack by Norwich.
Jerome came close to heading in Redmond’s lovely centre in the dying minutes but the Owls, who failed to register a single shot on target, were comfortably turned over on a miserable trip to Norfolk.