Sheffield Wednesday match verdict: Blackpool 0 Owls 1

Lewis McGugan scores. Picture: Steve Ellis
Lewis McGugan scores. Picture: Steve Ellis
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Since completing his £37.5 million takeover of the Owls a week ago, Dejphon Chansiri has promised to spend £1m on a new pitch at Hillsborough and also install a new scoreboard this summer.

Now the Thai seafood magnate has been ordered by thousands of Wednesdayites to tie up another key piece of business ... the permanent capture of Lewis McGugan.

The classy midfielder, on loan from Watford until the end of the season, notched his third goal in five outings since rejoining the Owls in Saturday’s 1-0 triumph at League One bound Blackpool.

Chants of ‘sign him up, sign him up’ reverberated around Bloomfield Road in the second half and those cries are unlikely to have gone unnoticed in the directors box where Chansiri watched the action unfold with his family.

Yet again McGugan demonstrated his dead-ball prowess, curling in a 54th-minute free-kick from the left which evaded everyone in the centre to settle a scrappy Championship showdown. In cricket terminology, it was delivered into the corridor of uncertainty and Blackpool’s defence had no answer to the set-piece.

“The fans have been absolutely fantastic with me,” he told The Star. “They are brilliant and were one of the main reasons why I wanted to come back. I feel really wanted and appreciated and it’s been a long time since I felt like that.

“I’m really enjoying my football. I’ve got a smile on my face and the fans have played a massive part in that.

“I can’t get too carried away because I know what football is like. It’s very up and down. At this present time, I’m really, really happy.

“I just want to keep on enjoying my football and giving the team as much as possible until the end of the season. Hopefully I can keep on repaying the fans and we will see what happens in the summer.”

On his strike at Blackpool, he said: “I always try from that angle to get the free-kick on target. If someone doesn’t get a flick on it, you hope it will go in and luckily enough it did.

“I’ve always been very confident with dead balls throughout my career. Goals are a big part of my game and I’m really pleased to be scoring at the moment.”

After showing his appreciation to the 2,000-plus Wednesday fans who travelled to the seaside, McGugan was congratulated by Owls head coach Stuart Gray as he trudged back to the away dressing room. Goalscoring midfielders are a dying breed, according to Gray.

“On a difficult pitch, Lewis showed his qualities,” said Gray. “He can get the ball down, spray the ball out wide to either full-back.

“I would imagine Lewis would be disappointed if he’s not having three or four attempts on goal per game. He’s that old fashioned midfielder who can go box-to-box. We need to keep him forward and winning the ball in the opposition’s half.

“We’ve got Lewis up to 100% fitness, he’s enjoying his football and we are enjoying him being here.

“He is a good player and we like to keep good players but the problem is he is on loan from Watford and he is still their player.”

Had this been a Premier League fixture, Match of the Day would have scheduled it near the bottom of their highlights package. The truth is it was never going to be a thriller on a bobbly, worn pitch that resembled Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

As Gray pointed out post-match, the dire playing surface was not conducive to playing attractive, passing football. Individuals had to, at times, play the percentages and do the basics properly.

Mind you, Wednesday created the bulk of the first-half opportunities, with Chris Maguire, one of three personnel changes, lively and industrious on the left flank. The Scot forced goalkeeper Elliot Parish into several smart stops but Atdhe Nuhiu arguably missed the best chance of the half, sending a free header over at the back post following a great cross by McGugan.

Jamie O’Hara curled a 25-yard free-kick narrowly wide and David Perkins fired straight at Keiren Westwood but Blackpool, who are now 17 points shy of safety with 10 matches remaining, looked a team devoid of confidence and quality in the final third.

There were a couple of occasions after the break when the Tangerines threatened through O’Hara, Miles Addison and Dom Telford but the Owls’ defence, marshalled expertly by player-of-the-season contender Tom Lees, stood firm. Claude Dielna also showcased his versatility, delivering a steady performance alongside Lees at the heart of their rearguard as Wednesday kept a 16th league clean sheet. Now Gray’s men are just one shut-out away from equalling the record of 17 set back in the 1978/79 season.

Ultimately, McGugan’s free-kick stretched Blackpool’s winless run to eight matches.

The Nottingham-born player said: “I’m really pleased to have got on the scoresheet but the most important thing was the win. We deserved to win.

“It was a good team performance. We deserved to win. It was an important three points especially after losing at home to Blackburn.”

McGugan is a proven Championship performer. A number of clubs at this level will be monitoring, with great interest, his situation at Watford. Hornets boss Slavisa Jokanovic has stated the 26-year-old is not part of his plans.

He is contracted to the Vicarage Road club until 2016 so the chances are Watford will want a minimum of a six-figure transfer fee for him. Whereas previously that might have been a stumbling block for Wednesday, that is no longer the case following Chansiri’s arrival.

For the Owls to push on, it is vital they sign McGugan on a permanent basis.

Blackpool: Parish 6; Barkhuizen 6** (Clarke 71), Aldred 7, Hall 7, Ferguson 6; Addison 6, Oliver 6* (Osayi-Samuel 60, 6), Perkins 6, O’Hara 7; Telford 6, Delfouneso 6. Substitutes: Boney, O’Dea, Nosworthy, Cubero, Sene.

Wednesday: Westwood 6; Palmer 7, Lees 8, Dielna 7, Helan 7; Lee 6, Hutchinson 5* (Vermijl 18, 6), McGugan 7, Maguire 7; Nuhiu 6, Keane 6** (Mattock 88). Substitutes: Kirkland, Buxton, May, Maghoma, Melo.

Hero: Stand-in Owls captain Tom Lees led by example, making a series of important headers and blocks when Blackpool, occasionally, put the visitors on the back foot. With other senior players sidelined by injured, Lees stepped up to the plate.

Manager’s view - Stuart Gray: “We dominated most of the game on a very difficult surface. The support the fans gave us was unbelievable. It was like a home game at times for us. My glass is always half full and while the play-offs is mathematically possible I want to go for it, and that is the challenge I have set the players.”

Manager’s view - Lee Clark: “We don’t like losing games but we’ve got to be realistic in what we are trying to do and what we are thinking about in terms of the group. I want the players to stake a claim to be part of the overhaul that I’ll be doing to try and get the club back to the Championship at the first attempt. It’s getting a bigger miracle by the week that needs to happen for us to stay up.”

Referee watch: Graham Scott. Things got a little bit heated in the second half but the Oxfordshire official got the majority of decisions spot on. He issued six yellow cards, including bookings to Tom Lees, Claude Dielna and Jeremy Helan.