Rookie keeper shines at St Mary’s but who was the corner culprit who set Owls on way to defeat?
JUST one set-piece, just a moment’s lapse, and Wednesday fortunes dropped faster than the temperature at St Mary’s on Saturday evening.
The sun had shone physically and metaphorically as the Owls matched a promotion-chasing side for an hour and fans in one stand had to shield their eyes from its beams in the first half.
But after our star sank behind a nearby block of flats, it grew cold and then dark as the contest slipped away from Wednesday and they ended up contemplating the gloom of being only four points off the bottom four.
The corner from which Saints centre half Jose Fonte scored with a free header was the turning point of the match.
A second goal six minutes later stemmed from an unlucky bounce in the penalty area, and the game was up.
The Owls were not able to hurt the home side, and fell to a first defeat in four away games despite an increase in defensive steel, plus moments when they themselves might have seized the initiative and three sound debuts.
Richard O’Donnell, the 22-year-old keeper thrust into the spotlight by the serious blow of Nicky Weaver’s injury, showed calmness and confidence and dealt with everything that was stoppable.
His two finest moments were pushing away a low drive from Saints midfield man Dean Hammond at 0-0 and touching a curling effort from winger Alex Chamberlain away from the top corner when it was 2-0.
Boss Gary Megson acknowledged: “Richard did exceptionally well.
“ He kicked it well, he took a a few decent crosses. He didn’t have a huge amount to do in terms of saves, but he made the saves when he had to do. I’m very pleased with him.”
New centre-backs Rob Jones and Danny Batth looked capable in a back four showing shape and organisation for the most part.
Batth displayed strength in the tackle and tenacity, despite the fact that he was given an early booking. Jones, who took the eye to even greater extent, made use of his 6ft 7in frame to win headers in both penalty areas.
It was also a fine block from a him that resulted in the corner from which the stalemate was broken. Chamberlain delivered to the near post and Fonte was making ground to head home.
Jones ended up closest to Fonte. But he wasn’t the one who was supposed to be picking up the scorer.
Megson refused to identify the culprit but explained: “It was neither of the centre-halves. We defend [corners] with five people designated to mark areas and five designated to mark people. The fella who scored should have been marked.”
Pleased with the new boys, he added: “The two centre-halves did well. We looked much more solid. Lambert, at this level, is a real handful, a big centre-forward who knows the game and is physically strong. We did okay.”
It looked to me as if Fonte escaped Gary Madine to find the space, and as if Jones turned around to look in the striker’s direction after the ball had gone in.
I suppose Jones was not going to win absolutely everything against a team of Saints’ calibre, and a flick-on by big Rickie Lambert led to the killer goal, but only very indirectly.
Lee Barnard, Lambert’s strike partner, still had a lot to do, against Batth and Mark Reynolds, and hit a ball that would have been harmless had it not hit Reynolds and bounced straight to the fee of Lambert. He took the chance smartly on the half-volley, but that was the sort of break that never came Wednesday’s way.
The Owls did threaten a few times, however, before they went behind. The match was not the one-sided affair that the BBC’s highlights programme seemed to suggest.
For example, Isaiah Osbourne, a powerhouse in midfield until he had to go off with a groin problem, shot past the angle from the edge of the box after making a surging run.
Michael Morrison sent a downward header wide from a free-kick by Gary Teale.
The Owls’ 4-4-2 matched Southampton’s for long periods. But they never seriously tested keeper Kelvin Davis, and the cause looked lost after they went two down, try though Megson did to alter things by switching to 4-3-3, with Jermaine Johnson the extra striker, and making changes in midfield.
Adam Lallana could have made it 3-0 when he hit the post.
Megson admitted: “Once they started to get on top, they got the momentum.
“We didn’t have enough about us in possession to cause them enough problems.”
As a performance, it was an improvement on the one against another of the division’s prominent teams, Peterborough, in the sense that Wednesday were in the contest for an hour instead of 25 minutes.
Saints boss Nigel Adkins said: “We knew this was going to be a challenging fixture. With the goals they conceded against Peterborough, we knew they would be tough to break down.
“Their goalkeeper made some fantastic saves.”
Frankly, defeat away from home against Southampton was no huge surprise.
But the Owls must do the business against some of the the division’s lesser lights if they to quell the growing unease about their league position.