Match analysis: Watford 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1 - Owls leave it late again to deny Hornets the title

Atdhe Nuhiu fires Wednesday level in injury time
Atdhe Nuhiu fires Wednesday level in injury time
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“We keep going until the final whistle and that’s what I’ve instilled into my players.”

These were the words of Stuart Gray last week as he reflected on Sheffield Wednesday’s strong away form this season.

Atdhe Nuhiu celebrates in front of the Wednesday supporters

Atdhe Nuhiu celebrates in front of the Wednesday supporters

And it seems that Watford were not paying attention.

Nor did they bother to look at the manner of the Owls’ results at Blackburn Rovers, Rotherham United or Bournemouth - the side they were tussling for the title with on the final day.

Because the leisurely manner in which they sat back on a single goal lead suggested they never expected Wednesday would find the equaliser that would take the Championship title out of their grasp.

Little did they account for a scruffy finish from Atdhe Nuhiu, 55 seconds into added time which cancelled out Matej Vydra’s first half header.

Owls boss Stuart Gray

Owls boss Stuart Gray

Little did they consider the brilliant heart shown by the Owls throughout this campaign - that which has brought several highlights in a mixed bag of a season.

Wednesday could have even won it but for a somewhat questionable decision by referee Lee Probert to blow for full time when they were breaking towards an empty net.

The pitch invasion celebration and sprayed champagne at full time suggested Watford did not mind too much that they would not be getting their hands on the Championship trophy. Promotion to the Premier League is the be all and end all.

But in the days to come, they may be some regrets at Vicarage Road that they did not try harder to kill the Owls off.

Chris Kirkland consoles Troy Deeney on missing out on the title

Chris Kirkland consoles Troy Deeney on missing out on the title

For the majority of the game, they had Wednesday beaten all ends up - other than on the scoreboard.

Watford dominated the first half and should have been several goals up by the break.

Though they eased off considerably in the second half, they rarely looked like losing control and there was always the feeling they could move through the gears with ease if needed.

Wednesday were not all that bad. Watford were just better - a lot better.

Chris Maguire races away from Watford goalscorer Matej Vydra

Chris Maguire races away from Watford goalscorer Matej Vydra

If, inside the next two years, the Owls are to make the same journey the Hornets are about to embark on, there is plenty of work to be done.

The lack of goals and general creativity are too obvious to even discuss. But there is also the lack of ability to take a stranglehold of a game, dominating possession and passing the opposition to death.

But as Gray and company begin their search for such ideals, they should make sure they maintain the spirit this current Owls squad has forged this season.

It was that, after all, which earned them a point at Vicarage Road on Saturday.

Wednesday combated Watford’s 3-5-3 formation with a fluid 4-4-2 which became a 4-5-1 when out of possession. Caolan Lavery and Will Keane would take turns in dropping out wide with Jose Semedo, Kieran Lee and Filipe Melo closing down the space in the middle of the park.

Melo was a bundle of energy throughout the afternoon, suggesting he could emerge from the long summer ahead a much more important player for the Owls.

But through the first half, Wednesday struggled to tame the Hornets and found themselves firmly on the back foot.

To say chances were few and far between for Gray’s men is certainly understating their lack of impact in the final third.

Spending so much of their time on the defensive, it was incredibly difficult for Wednesday to switch to attack.

Their only effort of the first half was made to look more threatening by Watford keeper Heurelho Gomes who made a real meal of collecting a looping header from Lavery.

In comparison, Watford were devastating.

They seemed to have the freedom of Vicarage Road down the right where Marco Motta gave Jeremy Helan a torrid time, exploiting the lack of an out-and-out wide left midfielder in the Owls set-up.

Chris Kirkland was the Owls man of the match by a country mile and certainly did enough to warrant at least being offered a new contract in the summer.

He superbly denied Vydra with his legs on 14 minutes after the Czech striker pounced on hesitation between Helan and Lewis Buxton to drill low.

The unlikely figure of Lavery was the defensive hero next, producing a stunning last ditch tackle to prevent Motta from getting a clear sight of goal inside the area midway through the half.

These nervy moments only added to the growing sense of inevitability that Watford would score.

And they did just that on 25 minutes.

Troy Deeney was denied from 15 yards by Kirkland but the ball fortuitously looped up into the path of Vydra who nodded into an empty net to ignite party scenes among the capacity Watford crowd.

Wednesday wilted after falling behind and Watford seemed to take the drop in the opposition’s energy levels as a signal to do the same themselves.

Chances would come for them to double their lead before the break.

Ikechi Anya drilled into the side-netting, Gabriele Angella headed narrowly over from a corner and Almen Abdi turned a shot wide from a great position in the centre of the box.

Kirkland showed a bit of flair himself. He raced out of his area, took off his trademark cap and headed a long ball clear with Vydra threatening to pounce.

It was a feat he repeated with even more style in the second half, removing his cap but then deciding to bring the ball down and dribble before clearing.

Sensing Watford could soon be out of sight, Gray sacrificed Lavery for Nuhiu with four minutes of the half to go. Afterwards the Owls head coach confessed he could have taken off any of his outfield players.

Abdi should have scored before the break after a wonderful sweeping Watford move but fired over.

Wednesday had much more fire in their belly as they emerged for the second half, closing down the hosts to ensure they had a far less comfortable time on the ball.

And they crafted only their second attempt five minutes into the half when Keane fed Chris Maguire who elected to go for a first time strike and put it high and wide.

Chances for both sides were scarce during the second half.

Watford’s mood was laid back, which would ultimately cost them.

It had a negative affect on the Vicarage Road crowd which was surprisingly subdued given this was their first chance to celebrate the promotion win. Wednesday’s 2,000+ support out-sang them for much of the afternoon.

And the Wednesdayites were in raptures in injury time.

Maguire sent a free kick into the box, the ball was tossed around before Nuhiu struck, scuffing a volley into the ground and sending the ball looping over Gomes.

With Bournemouth winning at Charlton, the title was out of Watford’s hands so Gomes went up for two late corners as they pushed for a winner.

Supporters had already spilled over advertising boards and surrounding the pitch when the corners were flighted in.

It took a superb save from Kirkland to deny substitute Daniel Tozser from the first.

And from the second, the ball was cleared and Lloyd Isgrove scampered clear to the half way line with Gomes no where in sight.

But referee Probert blew up, perhaps more with the impending pitch invasion in mind.

And so, supporters raced on to celebrate promotion while the travelling Wednesday fans celebrated almost as strongly after another fine result on the road.

All Gray wanted on Saturday was for the Owls to have a say in the Championship title race. And boy did they do that.