Owls match report: Sheffield Wednesday 1 Ipswich 1

Sheffield Wednesday v Ipswich Town......Owls Miguel Llera with Towns Daryl Murphy
Sheffield Wednesday v Ipswich Town......Owls Miguel Llera with Towns Daryl Murphy
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There were three cheers from many Wednesday fans after the game on Saturday.

Not for their team, as the fightback against Ipswich had already been applauded.

It was when the scores involving Wolves, Peterborough and Blackburn were announced that extra satisfaction was expressed.

The Owls’ point plus defeats for some of their rivals combined to make it a positive day.

For Wednesday, the picture at the bottom end of table is clearer than ever before.

A win at Peterborough next Saturday would seal survival - that is one simple way of looking at it.

Wednesday would even be safe before they kick off at 5.20pm in the televised game at London Road, if earlier Wolves lose at home to Burnley and Barnsley are beaten by Hull at Oakwell.

With two games remaining, the Owls certainly look poised to stay up.

The latest addition to their points haul was preceded by a tinge of concern.

With less than half an hour gone against Ipswich, a sloppy goal had been conceded, an unusually early tactical change had been necessary, and almost immediately after that switch Jermaine Johnson was counted out for the rest of the game and probably for the remainder of the season.

Critics could argue that Daves Jones got it wrong by leaving Steve Howard out of the starting 11, if he had to change things in the 25th minute. I must admit I had expected Howard to start, after his performance at Blackpool last week, but the Owls manager has also had some success with the front pairing of Leroy Lita and Johnson.

“It’s worked for us before; there was no reason why it couldn’t work this time,” he reflected.

But it became apparent that something had to be done, and it was a bold decision by the manager to do it so early.

“We needed a focal point, a target man,” he explained. “You couldn’t really get the ball down on the pitch and thread it through. Playing with Leroy and JJ there, it was going to be a bit from end to end.

“The ball was coming straight back; we needed someone to hold it.

“Ipswich’s intention was to get it forward and feed off the two big brutes up there; they did it well first half; in the second half we were probably the better team.”

He confirmed that Kieran Lee was taken off for tactical reasons: Johnson was moved to his spot on the right wing, and Howard became a target man alongside Lita.

“We were trying to get it down and use pace,” said Jones, “But it’s a very difficult pitch when you’re trying to get hold of the ball; it’s bobbling and there’s not much grass. The staff do brilliantly with it, but it doesn’t help us at all.

“Plus the game we had on Tuesday at Blackpool was leg-sapping. We looked a bit lethargic, a bit nervous.”

But Plan B was ruined as Johnson, in his first run in his new position on the right wing, suffered the misfortune of a hamstring pull. Enter Chris Maguire to give a lively display in that role.

Howard put himself about, missed a chance with a header in the first half, and it was his challenge for Lewis Buxton’s cross that drew defenders and resulted in Lita having time to control the ball and slamming home the 58th-minute equaliser.

“The two subs did really well,” said Jones, “Chris was superb, and Steve was tremendous. He gave their centre-halves a good, old-fashioned centre-forward’s display, just as much as their two lads (Daryl Murphy and Frank Nouble) did to ours. We ended up fighting them; you have to be cleverer than that.”

Wednesday were caught out by Ipswich’s goal - a first in four and a half years for tiny midfielder Jay Tabb. A long throw sailed over Miguel Llera’s head, and Tabb got in front of Buxton to score with his thigh.

“It was terrible goal, because we’d spoken about it. If people don’t do what you tell them or don’t listen, that happens,” said Jones.

Ipswich made life hard in the first half. They closed Wednesday down, were tightly organised and had threats up front.

Danny Pugh cleared a header by centre half Tommy Smith off the line, after a corner, and Chris Kirkland saved well from midfielder Luke Hyam.

But just before half-time, Howard headed a Pugh corner over the bar when he should have scored, and a good save and a goal-line clearance thwarted Lita and Anthony Gardner respectively.

During the break Wednesday were given what Giles Coke described as “a bit of a telling-off”.

Jones’ main concern was to avoid defeat. The team might have failed had a 53rd-minute shot by Murphy gone the other side of a post.

But the Owls attacked with new vigour in the second half; their passing improved, with Coke taking the eye; they rocked Ipswich’s composure, showed commendable effort and spirit and could have snatched victory.

Llera glanced an opportunity wide from a Maguire corner, and a perfect Lita header from a Jeremy Helan cross was rubbed out for offside: “a hairline decision,” said Jones.

Ipswich too went close to a winner. Kirkland ‘lost’ a long throw in a collision with Llera; Nouble hooked the ball towards goal, and Pugh leaped to swing his right foot and make an acrobatic clearance.

But Wednesday’s safety prospects are by no means up in the air.