Match report: Rochdale 1 Sheffield Wednesday 2

Oguchi Onyewu slams home the winning goal for Sheffield Wednesday. Pic: Steve Ellis.
Oguchi Onyewu slams home the winning goal for Sheffield Wednesday. Pic: Steve Ellis.
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Walking from the field after the final whistle, Stuart Gray smiled towards his chairman, who was looking down from the stand, and they gave each other the thumbs-up sign on a day when a bit of Wednesday history was made.

It was the Owls’ first ever victory at Spotland and was soon followed by the announcement that Gray was appointed as “head coach” - the first time that a Hillsborough team boss has been bestowed with this title.

Milan Mandaric sees this and the eventual - though “not in the near future” - hiring of a director of football as modernising the club’s structure along the lines of that of some Premier League and continental clubs.

But it was a good, old-fashioned English cup tie that rounded off Gray’s caretaker managership with an eighth successive game unbeaten - a contest of high tempo, determination and some controversy, in traditional weather of cold wind, rain and hail.

The result was all-important but the Owls also deserved it because they were the better side, besides earning their passage into the last 16 via two rehearsed corners that gave Gray great satisfaction and despite being hit by a goal that would have graced any world stage.

There were times in the past when if they had been pegged back to 2-1 and had a man sent off, Wednesday might have wilted or even collapsed, but the way they saw out the game was testimony to the new confidence, spirit and organisation breathed into the club by the man who has been rewarded with a two-and-half-year contract.

Mandaric told The Star afterwards: “Stuart has done a good job. He’s a very good coach; he’s turning out to be good manager. People speculated about other managers but I thought it was the right thing to give him a good chance, so we could manage things together and see what he’s all about, which is great for him, the club and everyone, and it has turned out to be the right thing.”

Gray modestly declared: “The players deserve all the credit. They’ve ended up getting me the job with the sort of effort, performance and commitment seen in this game, especially when we went down to 10 men.”

It was a landmark day for the red-carded man, Joe Mattock, and for new centre-half Oguchi Onyewu.

Mattock scored his first goal for the club, and his corner provided Onyewu with his first goal in English football - the much-travelled American did not play for QPR this season and did not score in his loan spell with Newcastle in 2007.

The first goal caused confusion in the press box because it was hard to see who got the final touch to Chris Maguire’s 49th-minute, left-wing corner. First impressions that Glenn Loovens got his head to it were confirmed later, and an inquiry to the dressing room afterwards brought the verdict that Mattock, close to the far post, had made the last contact.

There was no doubt about the second goal eight minutes later. Mattock’s right-side corner was headed firmly goalwards by Onyewu and when the ball was blocked back towards him he smacked it home.

Rochdale would take equal satisfaction from their own set-piece three minutes after that. A corner was played to the feet of captain Michael Rose and the left-back took a touch then half-volleyed spectacularly into the top corner from a good 25 yards, amid a hailstorm.

Mattock, booked in the first half, did not deserve his second yellow card, in the 64th minute as Ian Henderson cut inside him and fell over.

Gray re-organised by sacrificing Caolan Lavery, sending on Jeremy Helan at left-back and leaving one up front - initially Atdhe Nuhiu, then sub Jermaine Johnson.

JJ had a shot saved on the break near the end and provided the assist from which Kieran Lee might have scored had he not been pushed in the back by Henderson, inside the box. When asked about that incident, Gray replied sardonically: “We don’t get penalties, do we?”

It would not be a proper FA Cup if there had been no chances for the lower-division side: early in the game. Peter Vincenti missed with a free header, and Damian Martinez made the most important of a few competent saves when he stopped a shot from another of Dale’s midfielders, Matt Done.

But Dale, though they are a League Two force and outplayed Leeds in the previous round, could not match Wednesday’s qualities - which boss Keith Hill graciously acknowledged.

The Owls should have gone ahead in the 45th minute when Nuhiu sent Jacques Maghoma clear - Josh Lillis made a very good save. Lavery could have had a first-half opportunity too but for a miscontrol inside the box.

At one point during an entertaining contest a rainbow appeared behind the stand in which the 3,500 Wednesday fans were housed.

The Owls might not yet have earned a pot of gold from their cup exploits but the extra cash (£157,000 in prize money so far), on top of improved results and performances, is another reason why the club is entitled to have a sunny disposition.