WEDNESDAY had worked during the international break on tightening up after conceding two goals per game and slipping to their first defeat under Dave Jones at Crystal Palace.
But their plans came crashing down last night - the only consolation was that Brighton were the best team they have faced so far.
The Seagulls soared to the top of the Championship as the Owls, not helped by their injury problems, fell behind in the first half to a deflected goal and were finished off by two goals in four-minutes.
A possible turning point was Tomasz Kuszczak’s save from debut-making sub Ross Barkley just after half time. But on the whole Brighton were a potent, superior side, and staked a claim to be considered as promotion contenders.
Play was preceded by a minute’s silence in memory of the Hillsborough Disaster - a break that interrupted a vibrant atmosphere created by a bumper home crowd and aided by 1,600 from Sheffield.
The Owls started calmly. They were patient in their passing and created the first shot - mishit by Jermaine Johnson after he typically cut inside - and the first corner, another inswinger delivered by Miguel Llera.
But the first chance was made by the Seagulls after 14 minutes. Taylor had gone up for a free kick and Wednesday were pressing but they were caught by a long ball and winger Will Buckley was clean away with Craig Mackail-Smith up in support. Buckley went for goal and Chris Kirkland blocked.
Then a foul by Llera just outside the box - with the defender claiming he’d played the ball - brought a free kick and Brighton’s 24th minute breakthrough via a slice of luck as Wayne Bridge’s deflected strike gave Kirkland no chance. The Owls kept their heads yet the team found it hard to get their strikers and wide men into the game, with Johnson always faced by more than one opponent whenever in possession.
Suddenly Bothroyd unleashed a ferocious 25-yard effort which was deflected over by a defender - a demonstration of the new centre forward’s shooting power.
Although that encouraged Wednesday, they could have been two down in the 36th minute: another counter-attack saw Buckley racing away and thwarted by a tackle from Kirkland on the edge of his area.
Buckley then beat Beevers, crossed menacingly across goal, and Mattock cleared well.
Brighton’s movement and passing range had given them the edge and it was hard to see where a Wednesday goal was going to come from.
Dave Jones took off Rodri at half time and sent on the more imposing figure of the 6ft 2ins Ross Barkley to support Bothroyd and pick up Albion’s deep-lying midfield player Liam Bridcutt. The move nearly paid off in the 53rd minute: Johnson slipped a perfect ball to the on-loan Everton 18-year-old. Barkley shot from a tight angle on the left and forced an excellent block from Kuszczak.
A minute later it was 2-0. A great run from attacking right back Bruno carved a swathe through Owls’ defence and his low cross was turned in by Craig Mackail-Smith; the striker’s fifth goal in three games.
Brighton were inspired and they notched the third goal four minutes later. A superb diagonal ball from Bruno dropped to Buckley, who was running free in between defenders and dinked the ball cleverly over Kirkland.
A magnificent save by the keeper with his outstretched right hand prevented a header from Mackail-Smith making it four. The rest of the game was almost academic, with the points looking well beyond Wednesday’s reach.
But Bothroyd nearly grabbed a consolation with a far-post header from an Antonio cross which was turned over the bar by the keeper.
Wednesday gave debuts to deadline-day signings Martin Taylor, at centre half, and Bothroyd, up front, and handed former Brighton loan man Mattock his first start because right back Lewis Buxton was ruled out by his hamstring injury.
Chris O’Grady dropped to the bench, and Daniel Jones was left out, with Mark Beevers switching to left back and Reda Johnson still sidelined with his ankle problem.
Barkley went straight in as a sub after his signing on a month’s loan from Everton was confirmed earlier in the day, with Dave Jones saying: “We have been chasing Ross for some time and I’m really pleased to have him on board.
“This is as big as the Rodri signing for me because this lad is a real quality player. He’s energetic, good in the air and a box-to-box player who can score a goal.”
But Brighton competently kept the Owls out and deserved their victory.
Last night was perhaps a demonstration of some of the stiff challenges Wednesday will face in this division.
n SEAGULLS: Kuszczak 7, Bruno 8, Greer 7, El-Abd 7, Bridge 7, Bridcutt 7, Dicker 7, Hammond 7, Barnes 7 (Lopez 81), Mackail-Smith 7 (Dobbie 69, 6), Buckley 8 (Orlandi 77). Unused subs: Ankergren, Dunk, Calderon, LuaLua.
n OWLS: Kirkland 8, Mattock 7, Taylor 7, Llera 6, Beevers 6, Antonio 6, McCabe 7, Semedo 6, J Johnson 6 (Pecnik 62, 6), Bothroyd 6 (Madine 87), Rodri 6 (Barkley ht,7). Unused subs: Bywater, Maguire, O’Grady, Lee. Booking: Llera, Bruno.