Owls season fizzles out: Ipswich 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1

Joe Mattock salutes fans at the final whistle
Joe Mattock salutes fans at the final whistle
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Barry Manilow will no doubt sing Could It be Magic? when he appears at Portman Road on May 16.

Any Wednesday fans going in to the stadium last Saturday and wondering whether they were in for a magical end to the season will have ended up a bit disappointed but perhaps also appreciative of the team’s efforts.

The Owls played their part in an entertaining contest and deserved at least a point but ultimately fell down in both penalty areas, conceding two goals as a result of free-kicks and not making the most of their opportunities at the other end.

There was also some decent and steely football plus an avoidance of the sort of errors that cost goals in the Bolton game the previous week.

But, against a team who until a fortnight earlier were contenders for the play-offs, Wednesday were not quite good enough to change the anti-climactic feel to their final few weeks of the season. Saturday’s contest, like so many in the Championship this season, was close and could have gone either way.

The Owls forced two outstanding saves from Ipswich keeper Dean Gerken in the 45th minute, in a brief period that might just have changed the game, and they brought some first-class defending out of Mick McCarthy’s side.

Other key moments cost them, however.

Take the first goal: They were caught out by a free-kick that gave Ipswich freedom to cross from the left, and the ball into the box was not properly cleared.

Daryl Murphy’s shot was brilliantly saved by Damian Martinez - who was playing because Chris Kirkland had been ill all week and was not 100 per cent, said head coach Stuart Gray - but centre-half Tommy Smith followed up to score.

There was a suspicion that Smith was offside when Murphy’s boot made contact - right or wrong, it was a very close decision.

The second goal was a free, glancing header by midfielder Paul Green, from a free-kick very similar to the one from which Atletico Madrid scored their second goal against Chelsea last week - whipped into the area and hard to defend against.

Ipswich had their own moments. In the first half, left winger Frazer Richardson missed with a volley, with this too stemming from a free-kick, and ex-Owls loan striker Murphy hit the post. But Wednesday had more strikes at goal.

A great tackle by right-back Luke Chambers ended a half-chance for Michail Antonio, who also shot tamely wide, But Antonio’s close-range, side-footed volley brought out the best in Gerken, who had also just touched a curled effort from former Ipswich boy Caolan Lavery around the post.

So the equaliser, just after half -time, was merited. Chris Maguire fed an overlapping run from Joe Mattock, Lavery failed to connect properly with the full-back’s cross and Kieran Lee passed the ball into the net - his first goal for the club.

Antonio could not react quickly enough when he probably saw a Maguire free-kick late, as it arrived at his feet.

After Ipswich sneaked ahead, Gray turned to the pace of Helan and sent on Jacques Maghoma so, with Leon Best already on as a sub, Wednesday had four forwards plus Maguire, who dropped into central midfield.

They threw men forward but could not carve Ipswich open. Antonio should have done better when he tried an awkward shot with the outside of the foot from the edge of the box, and it went wide, while four teammates were up in support and a pass would have been a better option.

Maghoma cut inside and drilled a shot wide.

Gray reflected: “It’s just fizzled out a bit towards the back end (of the season) when the squad’s been stretched to its full. We’ve been involved in other games where we haven’t deserved anything but today I thought we deserved a draw or maybe a win.

“Finally Kieran scores a goal! I don’t know if he knew how to celebrate! He deserves it, with the effort and commitment he’s put in. The keeper’s made two great saves in the first half. They’re defining moments.”

Gray chose Sam Hutchinson at right-back because he has defensive qualities and Lee’s passing was needed in midfield - but the Owls boss admitted he would rather have Lewis Buxton and Liam Palmer fit so Hutchinson could be in midfield as well.

Wednesday have missed two targets, not able to surpass last season’s tally of 58 points or finish as Yorkshire’s top team, But the finishing position of 16th is two places better than last season’s and everyone would have settled for that when, as Gray took over, they were six points adrift of safety.

Hero: Kieran Lee tucked away his first goal for the Owls goal with composure and made me wonder why he has not taken more of his chances. He kept things ticking over in midfield and showed this is his best position rather than right-back.