ONLY twice since Gary Megson took over as manager in February have Sheffield Wednesday lost after scoring the first goal.
So when Ryan Lowe coolly tucked away his first one at Hillsborough there was every confidence that the Owls would go on to seal FA Cup victory against League Two opposition.
That is how it turned out, with the breakthrough following a dull first half and preceding an improved second-half showing for a Wednesday side lacking key players and showing five changes from the team that started the previous week’s largely impressive display against Leyton Orient.
It was easy to imagine Megson giving a pep talk to the players at half time on Saturday.
“We didn’t play fast enough,” he confirmed. “We needed to move the ball a lot quicker, because of the way Aldersnhot were playing.
The danger was that the Owls would be unable to take one of their chances and be hit on the break by a side who matched them in the first half.
But Lowe did the job for which he was bought from Bury for £100,000 in August.
When Chris O’Grady helped the ball through to him, the Liverpudlian clinically slotted the ball past the keeper to notch his third goal for Wednesday - the others were at Wycombe and Tranmere - on top of the seven he netted for his previous club.
That proved to be enough to book a place in the third round, though the match-winner could also have made the passage smoother: he hooked an early opportunity wide, and shot way off target when a goal-kick by Richard O’Donnell directly made a 68th-minute opening for him.
Wednesday, still without the aerial power of Gary Ma
dine, missed the quality and creativity of Ben Marshall, and the left-back drive of Reda Johnson, who had to be switched to centre-half, where he was steady.
A shin gash suffered in training meant that the Owls were also without the dependable James O’Connor - unexpected disruption in midfield.
But they could well still have won by a bigger score.
Good defending by the visitors prevented a cross by the impressive James Tavernier reaching O’Grady in first-half stoppage time.
Another first-class run and cross from the right-back made a scramble in which keeper Jamie Young punched away from the head of Cbris Sedgwick.
Lowe should have made it 2-0; then in the closing stages O’Grady forced a full-stretch save from Young; Rob Jones headed a Chris Lines corner over the bar; Jermaine Johnson, on as a sub and making exciting runs, had a shot blocked and put another chance wide after put through by O’Grady.
But Aldershot had their moments: a far-post free header in the 66th minute which was put wide by striker Michael Rankine, and a 74th-minure shot by winger Adam Smith which brought a cracking save from Richard O’Donnell.
The Owls keeper lived up to his staus as the man who comes in and does a good job when a more experienced colleague is out, and it was further aid towards the 23-year-old’s quest for a new contract when his present one expires next summer.
It is the team’s current inability to win by more than one goal that concerns Megson:
“We did it in the last league game - created a lot of chances but won 1-0,” he said.
“We missed sitters against Aldershot and were fortunate at times. Most of the time in games we’re on top but not scoring enough. When it’s 1-0 it causes us a few headaches.”
He also said: “We’ve got 28 players; 10 were unavailable either through injury, suspension or through not being allowed to play by their parent club.” Five of the club’s six loan men were out.
He added: “It’s going to make life difficult for us in the FA Cup, but the priority has to be the league.”
Megson also picked out positives: “We worked hard. We looked organised. We didn’t pass the ball well enough but we kept going.
“Chris O’Grady’s performances as a target man was terrific, a lot more like what we looking for. Hopefully that will set a standard for himself that he can at least attain and hopefully kick on from.
“There was a lot of good stuff. James Tavernier, certainly in the second half, caused them a lot of problems.”
Megson, having used Jermaine Johnson only as a sub, again spelt out the need for the winger to work hard on his form and fitness and accept defensive duties as well as showing the explosive attacking flair that no-one else in the club has, otherwise he will tend to be on the bench or someone who is taken off.
While also ob-
serving that JJ could have scored at least once in his late burst as a sub, the manager concluded: “I was really pleased that he’s gone on for 10 minutes and did as well as he did.” But on the whole this was not a vintage Sheffield Wednesday performance.
Megson admitted: “I’ve got to be perfectly honest, I didn’t think we were anything like we have been in the last few months. But we’ve managed to win; that’s a bonus for us.
“But you have to look at what I would consider our strongest team when everybody is fit and available. There would probably be six changes from today’s.”
Aldershot boss Dean Holdsworth said: “It came down to a moment of quality from Wednesday, which we knew they would have, but it was probably a lapse in concentration that cost us.”