Sheffield Wednesday match verdict and reaction: Cardiff City 2 Owls 2

Fernando Forestieri scores. Pictures: Steve Ellis
Fernando Forestieri scores. Pictures: Steve Ellis
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After a rip-roaring second-half display in the Welsh capital, Carlos Carvalhal will have enjoyed every mouthful of his dinner on the journey back to South Yorkshire.

With Wednesday trailing play-off rivals Cardiff City 2-0 at the interval, it appeared inevitable they would suffer a sixth successive defeat in South Wales.

Having shaded a cagey opening 20 minutes, the Owls conceded two cheap, sloppy goals, key midfielder Sam Hutchinson hobbled off after picking up a knock and the Bluebirds threatened to run riot.

Everything looked stacked against Carvalhal’s men. There seemed no way back.

Carvalhal is a passionate, fiery character and could have been forgiven for kicking over some water bottles again or even throwing a tea-cup in a half-time tear-up.

But whatever Carvalhal said in the confines of the away dressing room had the desired effect as Wednesday emerged after the interval a much-improved side. They were transformed after his pearls of wisdom.

Barry Bannan equalises

Barry Bannan equalises

“As we say in Portugal, we put all the meat on the fire because we were angry and wanted to eat,” said Carvalhal, as he added another quirky metaphor to his growing collection.

What has become abundantly clear, as we approach the halfway point of the season, is Carvalhal knows exactly how to fire up his players. His troops never know when they are beaten.

What Wednesday may lack in quality they make up for with sheer hard work and togetherness.

Carvalhal said: “We played with a big heart and soul. My team don’t like to lose. They fight all the time to win every game. When you have that kind of character, you have a winning team.

“Even when we were in a difficult situation and finished the half 2-0 down, we didn’t let our heads go down. We had a strong mentality and kept on believing we could turn it around.”

Defensively the Owls struggled to contain Tony Watt. The Cardiff striker was a constant menace and referee Charles Breakspear had no hesitation in pointing to the spot after he was brought down by Keiren Westwood following a jinking, determined run. Craig Noone made no mistake from 12 yards.

“It was a clear penalty,” admitted Carvalhal. “Up to that point, we had been controlling the game and we had a good dynamic.”

If anything, Wednesday lacked a bit of fire in their bellies after Noone’s 21st-minute opener.

They almost claimed a fortuitous equaliser as Liam Palmer’s cross struck Lucas Joao’s knee and hit the post before David Marshall gobbled up the rebound.

To compound Owls woes, Anthony Pilkington doubled Cardiff’s lead, beating the off-side trap before coolly rounding Westwood and tapping home.

Carvalhal said: “We lost a little bit of concentration. The second time Cardiff went to our goal, they scored the second.”

While they were not quite lambs to the slaughter, the Owls rode their luck and Cardiff could have grabbed a third. Westwood was forced into action, making a smart stop to foil Watt. Kenwyne Jones’ header was also ruled out for offside and Pilkington headed over unmarked from six yards as Cardiff took complete control.

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Carvalhal conceded: “Between the second goal and the end of the half, we lost a bit of balance in the team.”

With Kieran Lee nursing a slight problem, Carvalhal threw on Gary Hooper and switched to a diamond formation. Wednesday looked hungrier although Jones and Aron Gunnarsson missed chances to kill off a feisty, at times bad-tempered contest.

It took a moment of individual brilliance from Fernando Forestieri to get them back into the match. There didn’t seem a lot on when the skilful forward collected the ball 25 yards out but he drilled a low shot past Marshall.

Carvalhal said: “It was a good goal by Fernando but we were in a good way on the offensive part of the team. We were creating chances and Cardiff were under pressure.

“The fitness levels of the team were fantastic and the way we played in the second half was unbelievable.”

Ross Wallace and Barry Bannan curled free-kicks over from distance before combining brilliantly for the leveller with 14 minutes left. Bannan lashed in with the aid of the left-hand upright after a neat pull-back by Wallace.

In a thrilling finale, the lively Watt fired wide before Westwood produced a stunning save, diving to his left to turn away Noone’s long-range piledriver. At the other end, Marshall had to be alert to keep out Bannan’s volley.

Carvalhal insisted: “We deserved the draw. They had chances but the score was correct.

“We lost two points against Derby but we won a point today because we were losing 2-0.

“We played with heart and a good fitness. The substitutions helped us to get back into the game but the most important thing is we played with heart and soul.”

It was a spirited comeback and probably would have felt like a victory. It should also be pointed out that Carvalhal deserves big credit for, yet again, tweaking their system and getting the best out of Forestieri, who oozed class.

But Wednesday have to quickly cut out the elementary mistakes they are making on the road, starting at relegation-threatened MK Dons tomorrow.

Should the Owls fail to rectify their average record away from Hillsborough in the second half of the campaign, the fire will gradually go out on their promotion tilt.

Cardiff: Marshall 6; Peltier 6, Morrison 6, Connolly 6, Malone 6; Noone 8, Ralls 6, Gunnarsson 6, Pilkington 7 (Fabio 89); Jones 7 (Ameobi 68, 6), Watt 8. Substitutes: Moore, Manga, Whittingham, Macheda, O’Keefe.

Wednesday: Westwood 6; Palmer 6, Loovens 6, Turner 6, Pudil 6; Wallace 6, Lee 6 (Hooper H-T, 6), Hutchinson 6 (Lopez 20, 6), Bannan 7; Forestieri 8, Joao 6 (Nuhiu 90). Substitutes: Wildsmith, McGugan, Helan, Sougou.

Referee: Charles Breakspear (Surrey).

Attendance: 14,526.