When Stevie May scores, Sheffield Wednesday win football matches.
Since moving south of the border nearly four months ago, the 22-year-old has struggled to find the back of the net on a consistent basis.
But all five of May’s five strikes in Owls colours have come in winning causes and the Scotland international’s double either side of half-time on Saturday ensured Wigan Athletic could not stop Wednesday head coach Stuart Gray’s from celebrating his one-year anniversary in charge with a morale-boosting victory.
Like his strike partner Atdhe Nuhiu, May pressed and closed down Wigan’s defenders high up the pitch, forcing them into mistakes.
He then underlined his quality in the final third, scoring two classy goals to end Wednesday’s 11-match winless run.
At the start of the team’s bad patch, Gray’s men were thrashed 7-0 by Premier League Champions Manchester City in the Capital One Cup, but May is adamant that had no bearing on their poor run of results in the Championship. “I think it’s maybe a coincidence,” said May, who bagged 27 goals for St Johnstone last term. “We never let our heads go down after the City game.
“Obviously we were disappointed but it was a bonus game. We had the league to concentrate on and at the time we were going well. I don’t think that’s got anything to do with our run.”
Slowly but surely May is starting to justify the Owls’ £800,000 investment.
He said: “I’ve come down, settled into my house and am enjoying playing.
“The boys have all been great with me. We started the season very well. We’ve been through a little rough patch and we need to pick up and perform again.”
You could have forgiven Wednesdayites for thinking this was going to be another frustrating afternoon at Hillsborough when Jose Semedo’s fierce low drive from the edge of the penalty area struck the left-hand upright following good build-up play involving Atdhe Nuhiu and May. Chris Maguire’s follow-up was smartly turned away by Scott Carson.
The visitors, searching for their first win under new boss Malky Mackay, took the lead in the 26th minute after a defensive lapse in concentration.
Chris McCann shrugged off the attentions of Semedo, who is ruled out of Saturday’s trip to Blackburn Rovers after collecting his fifth yellow card of the season, and sent a powerful header into the roof of Keiren Westwood’s goal following an inswinging James McClean corner.
Wigan’s joy was shortlived as Wednesday equalised a minute later, scoring their first goal at Hillsborough since September 30. You could feel the relief after May coolly side-footed home from close range following a deft backheel by Nuhiu after good play on the left flank by Royston Drenthe and Lewis McGugan.
The leveller lifted the home supporters mood, and Helan should have put the Owls ahead after latching on to Drenthe’s lovely pass, but the full-back, an outstanding attacking outlet throughout, was thwarted by Carson.
Westwood, arguably Wednesday’s stand-out performer this term, produced two smart stops to deny the lively Callum McManaman and Marc-Antoine Fortune before the interval.
After the refblew for half-time, Westwood raced up to his teammate, Maguire, and they squared up to each other.
Gray confirmed the duo carried on arguing in the dressing room.
Gray said: “It just shows how much they do care. Sometimes you want that from your players as long as it doesn’t spill over into something ridiculous.
“Westy was questioning something about Chris. I think it was to do with the corner for the goal.”
Wednesday continued to look vulnerable from corners after the break and McGugan hacked McClean’s header off the line following a dangerous delivery by Ben Watson.
If anything, Wigan appeared to carry the greater attacking threat as McCann fired McManaman’s centre wide.
But step forward May, with the diminutive forward rising highest to glance in Maguire’s cross. His header struck both posts and the linesman adjudged that the whole of the ball went over the line. It is the sort of luck which has not gone Wednesday’s way in recent months.
There were one or two scary moments for Wednesday defensively as Forshaw narrowly failed to turn in McManaman’s centre while Palmer had to be alert to clear McClean’s effort towards goal away from danger with substitute Roger Espinoza charging in at the back post.
May, who wasted a glorious opportunity to complete his hat-trick in the closing stages, said: “I’m delighted to get the goals but the win is the most important thing because it gets us back on track and hopefully now we can go on a run.
“We have felt in the past few weeks we’ve deserved more points than what we have gained.
“It’s fine margins in this league between a goal and a win. When Semi [Jose Semedo] hit the post, you are thinking it is going to be one of those days again.
“We rode our luck a little bit at times. I got the rub of the green, which was overdue. Hopefully our luck has changed.
“It all starts with hard work. We played at a high tempo, pressing them all over the field.
“We deserved to pick up the three points and now we move on.”
It had been 11 matches, including his international outing, since May had last scored.
“It was good to get that monkey off my back,” he admitted.
“I wasn’t letting that run affect me and neither were the team.”
Gray was delighted with May’s contribution.
He said: “We know Stevie can score goals. He got 27 goals last season. He is probably disappointed not to have scored more.
“We’ve had opportunities where we’ve been 1-0 up and winning games and had chances to get that second goal.
“Stevie was a ‘Johnny on the Spot’ today and I’m pleased for him because he deserves it.
“He’s had some bad luck recently and especially last week when he hit the bar and the post at Huddersfield with the same shot.
“So when the ball hits both posts today I thought it was ‘Groundhog Day’. I looked across at the linesman and obviously I was delighted to see the flag go up.
“I work with Stevie every day and not a lot of players get through the same amount of work as Stevie does.
“He won his first cap for Scotland recently and that will do Stevie the world of good.”
Wednesday: Westwood 7; Palmer 6, Lees 7, Loovens 7, Helan 8; Maguire 7, Semedo 7, McGugan 7, Drenthe 7* (Lavery 89) ; May 8, Nuhiu 7. Substitutes: Kirkland, Lee, Maghoma, McCabe, Dielna, Corry.
Wigan Athletic: Carson 6; Boyce 6, Barnett 6, Ramis 5* (Perch HT, 6), Taylor 7; McCann 7, Watson 6; McManaman 7, Forshaw 6** (Espinoza 77), McLean 7; Fortune 6. Substitutes: Nicholls, Riera, Huws, Figueroa, Delort.