Sheffield Wednesday match report: Owls 3 Blackburn 3

Atdhe Nuhiu is mobbed after his late equaliser
Atdhe Nuhiu is mobbed after his late equaliser
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What began as a sombre occasion finished as one of Hillsborough’s most exciting games of the season on Saturday.

All thoughts just before kick-off were on the 96 who lost their lives in the 1989 semi-final disaster.

But the focus at the end was on the heroics of two-goal Atdhe Nuhiu and a thrilling fightback from Wednesday after they were 3-1 down.

Nuhiu has had his ups and downs this season but commands respect for his spirit and workrate.

With only four goals for the Owls before Saturday, he came good with his first double since October 2011, when he grabbed the second and third goals to earn Rapid Vienna a 3-2 win against Sturm Graz in the Austrian Bundesliga.

While his feat on Saturday was something of a repeat, Stuart Gray called it “spooky” the way that this contest mirrored the Owls’ at Forest last Tuesday, when it was they who led 3-1 and were hit by two late goals.

Blackburn may well be haunted by the memory of Nuhiu if they miss out on the play-offs as a result of the loss of two points at Hillsborough.

Wednesday deserved their reward, however, and they were desperately close to snatching a sensational victory in the last few seconds.

As if we had not seen enough drama already, Nuhiu forced a block from keeper Paul Robinson in the seventh minute of stoppage time, and Caolan Lavery struck the rebound chance over the bar.

It was in the fifth added minute that Nuhiu confirmed himself as the star of the show. He showed a delicate touch then a lethal left-foot finish into the roof of the net, after Jeremy Helan played the ball forward and a shot by Miguel Llera was blocked.

Nuhiu, recalled to the side because on-loan Leon Best could not play against his parent club, also showed a goal-poacher’s instinct when he was in the right place at the right time to make it 3-2 in the 71st minute. thanks also to a tremendous long ball from Chris Maguire and blistering run to the byline by Michail Antonio.

Antonio headed on the Maguire corner than brought previously infrequent scorer Lewis Buxton his second goal in successive games and a 1-1 scoreline in the 30th minute - the corner having stemmed from a brilliant save by Robinson from an Antonio header.

But Wednesday had gifted Blackburn an almost comical first goal.

Buxton headed a dropping ball unluckily to Tommy Spurr. The ex-Owls left back mis-hit the ball towards goal, Sam Hutchinson left it, Llera took a swing and missed it and Rhodes was waiting to tuck away perhaps the easiest of his 24 goals.

Wednesday did not close down Craig Conway when he hit the bottom corner from 25 yards, and right-back Michael Keane sneaked in behind Oguchi Onyewu to head Rovers into what seemed at the time an almost impregnable 3-1 lead.

No wonder Gray, besides praising the perseverance of his players, also admitted: “We need to defend better. We are defending poorly at the moment.”

He reflected: “I said to them at half time: ‘You’ve got 45 minutes to go. It could be the most enjoyable 45 minutes; it could be the longest; the only way you can enjoy it is by putting hard work in, closing down, outrunning them, out-tackling them, putting the ball between the posts and getting enough bodies between the posts’.

“Atdhe was in between the posts for his goals.

“I did say to them: ‘There’s no hiding place out there; you’ve got to roll your sleeves up, and at least you let the fans think ‘well at least we’ve had a go, they’ve worked hard’. And we got our breaks.

“Atdhe two or three weeks back hadn’t been getting a break in front of goal, He works his socks off, which he’s done today, and he’s got his rewards.”

Nuhiu also hit the target when it was 1-0 but Robinson made his other excellent save of the match.

Chris Kirkland kept out Rhodes in a one-on-one on the hour mark when a fourth goal for Blackburn would have spelled curtains. At Forest, Wednesday had a chance to make it 4-1.

It was Rhodes again who broke through, in the 86th minute, with an opportunity to put his team safely 4-2 ahead, but he hit the side-netting.

Wednesday’s recovery was aided by Gray’s knowledge that they simply had to ‘have a go’.

A double substitution introduced the pace of Helan and Lavery. Benik Afobe was thrown on as well. The Owls then had five forwards on the pitch and continued to throw everything at the opposition..

Nuhiu received hugs from the coaching staff when he left the field after a job well done.

The striker let a swear word slip in a post-match live radio interview. But Blackburn must have been cursing him.

Meanwhile, Wednesday paid tribute to those who died in the disaster by installing 96 new white seats on the front two rows of the Leppings Lane end, which each had a red rose with a card bearing the name of a victim.

A minute’s silence was followed by managers Gray and Gary Bowyer walking from the centre circle to lay wreaths behind the goal at that end.

Gray said after the game: “I think both clubs paid their respects.

“No father, mother, son or daughter should lose anybody at a football match. It was a fantastic minute’s silence, totally respected. It was just a sad occasion when you think what happened 25 years ago. I think the players, the fans and the two clubs played their part today.”

Hero: I had Atdhe Nuhiu down as Star Man before he scored the late equaliser: he battled valiantly on his own up front and tried to make things happen for teammates, and poached the goal that put the Owls back in the game. His second goal underlined his worth.