There was no love or warmth spread towards Owls boss Stuart Gray and his goal-shy Sheffield Wednesday side following yet another disappointing result on home soil.
Gray’s men were booed off at the final whistle after their goalless draw with relegation-threatened Brighton and Hove Albion on Valentine’s Day.
It was the ninth time the Owls have fired blanks in 16 Hillsborough fixtures this season. They have picked up just 17 points out of a possible 48 in their own backyard, scoring just eight goals.
You have to go back to November 29 for the one, and only occasion, where Wednesday have managed to score from open play at home. Putting Stevie May’s double against Wigan Athletic to one side, Wednesday’s other six strikes in front of their own supporters have come from set-pieces. To put that into context, Wednesday have found the back of the net just twice from open play in 24 hours of football at Hillsborough. It is a truly embarrassing record.
Wednesday should have comfortably beaten a Brighton side low on confidence and quality but their wayward finishing continues to let them down. It is the final piece of the jigsaw that is missing.
Sergiu Bus, Will Keane, Kieran Lee (2) and Atdhe Nuhiu (2) all lacked the composure or sharpness in front of goal to give Owls a much-needed home win. The team is crying out for a lethal finisher.
It has to be said that Brighton goalkeeper David Stockdale produced two good stops to deny Bus, making his full debut since arriving from CSKA Sofia, and Keane in the first half and he expertly saved Lee’s low drive with his feet in the second period.
Nuhiu should have scored in the closing stages following a wonderful solo run by Jeremy Helan but the big striker, a half-time replacement for Keane, blazed over, having coolly side-stepped Lewis Dunk. That chance encapsulated Wednesday’s short-comings at the business end of the field.
Gray refused to criticise Nuhiu, the club’s leading scorer with seven goals, saying: “I feel for Atdhe at the end there with the chance he’s created for himself.
“He’s gone to side-foot it and it’s bobbled up and it’s ended up going off his shin, which is very frustrating, but on a normal pitch you just stroke that in because he’s created his chance excellently.”
Try as he might, Gray has struggled to find a solution to their goalscoring problems and the pressure is mounting on him following a six-match winless run. The Owls chief rotated his squad after their below-par showing at Ipswich Town, handing starts to Liam Palmer, Kamil Zayatte, Semedo, Jacques Maghoma and Bus. There was plenty of endeavour and decent approach play but no cutting edge.
Gray met with prospective new owner Dejphon Chansiri, whose £30 million takeover has yet to be approved by the Football League, last Thursday to discuss the club’s future but is acutely he will be judged on results by his new boss.
“The meeting was very positive,” he insisted. “Short term, they are willing to support me and back me. Long term, they are willing to support me and back me. Both on and off the pitch.
“They are in it for the long haul.”
He added: “It’s a results business. I know that the stats say drawn three lost three, no wins in six. The only way you can get rid of that stat is by winning a game.”
It is inevitable Gray will have to dip into the emergency loan window market to bolster his squad for the run-in.
Skipper Glenn Loovens faces six to eight weeks on the sidelines due to an ankle problem he sustained in training while Jose Semedo (ankle) and Will Keane (knee) are also major injury concerns.
He said: “The owners will support me and back me to bring players in. They are 100 per cent wanting to strengthen the team.
“It’s a big blow for Glenn, and a blow for us. Very frustrating.
“The owners have said ‘Look Stuart, we will do everything we can to help this football club’.
“It doesn’t matter if its a centre-half, centre-forward or midfield players.
“With the emergency window now open, they are willing to support me, then we will sit down regarding the budget for next season, what players we want to bring into this football club and take us forward.”
One of the big things Gray stressed to Thai businessman Chansiri and his advisers during their meeting is the importance of investing in the Hillsborough pitch. In recent weeks, the poor playing surface has hindered their ability to push on in the Championship.
Lewis McGugan, on loan from Watford until the end of the season, said: “The pitch doesn’t help and when teams come and see it they tend to sit in and see what they can take. If they can take a point, they will sit in and play the percentages.
“We can keep on talking about the pitch but it isn’t going to change. It is what it is so we’ve got to try and make the best out of the situation. We are professional footballers so we can’t expect to be playing on carpets all the time.
“I think we are giving a good account of ourselves on a difficult pitch and are still creating chances.
“It’s harder to play the kind of football we might want to play but sometimes you have to play the conditions and at home that’s what we are having to do. Everyone wants to play wonderful football and get the ball down but sometimes you can’t.”
While the pitch is in a poor condition, Wednesday, who are the lowest scorers in the division, cannot hide behind that excuse. Too many players are not playing to their full potential.
Gray insisted: “We won’t feel sorry for ourselves. If we weren’t creating chances, I would be a little bit concerned.
“It’s going to take someone to take responsibility, to stick it away with the chances we are creating.
“The amount of set-plays and corners we have going into the box, it might have to be a centre-half that has to win a game for us at the moment.”
Brighton spurned opportunities themselves to punish Wednesday’s profligacy in the final third. Inside the opening minute, Tom Lees almost turned Sam Baldock’s cross past Keiren Westwood.
Rohan Ince clipped the crossbar with a fierce shot following a dangerous Joao Teixeira corner and Bruno fired over in the second period after a rapid counter-attack by the visitors. They also had a decent penalty appeal turned down when Sam Baldock felt he was impeded by Jeremy Helan.
Chris Hughton, the Brighton boss, said: “I haven’t seen it again but speaking to Sam, who’s a very honest lad, he thinks it was a nailed-on penalty.”
That decision might have possibly gone the home side’s way, but Wednesday have only got themselves to blame for dropping two more home points.
Wednesday: Westwood 6; Palmer 7, Lees 7, Zayatte 7, Helan 7; Lee 6, McGugan 6, Semedo 6* (Hutchinson 34* 6), Maghoma 6; Bus 6 (May 81***), Keane 6 (Nuhiu HT** 6). Substitutes: Kirkland, Mattock, Dielna, Vermijl.
Brighton: Stockdale 7; Calderon 6, Greer 7, Dunk 7, Bennett 6; Ince 6, Kayal 6 (Stephens 73*); Bruno 6,Teixeira 7, Baldock 6 (Halford 78***); Best 6 (Mackail-Smith 78**). Substitutes: Walton, Hughes, LuaLua, O’Grady.
Manager’s view - Stuart Gray: “We had two great chances in the first half - probably a bit of a dull first half, two teams sparring against each other. Bus has had a great header, good save from the keeper, and the same with Will Keane. Second half I thought we dominated the game, on a difficult pitch. Talking about groundhog day, it really is. We had it against Cardiff where we dominated the ball, dominated possession, dominated the chances, but suddenly they get corners in the 94th and 95th minutes and you think you might get done.”
Manager’s view - Chris Hughton: “We always knew it would be tough. It’s a very difficult pitch to play how you’d like to play but that’s two clean sheets on the road and I think that, as the away team, yes you’ve got to be pleased with that. We’re a side who like to move the ball about and probably a reflection of the pitch is I thought that particularly when the game opened up, we counter-attacked very well but it was always going to be difficult to get that final pass in when we needed to.”
Referee watch: Scott Duncan. The Northumberland official kept control of the contest with a minimum of fuss. Cautioned five players, including Semedo and Hutchinson.
Hero: Kamil Zayatte, making his first start since September 30, delivered a commanding performance. The defender has recently returned from the Africa Cup of Nations where he did not feature because of a calf problem. With Loovens facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines, Zayatte has an opportunity make the centre-back position his own.
Key moment: With just one minute left, Atdhe Nuhiu drilled over a shot from close range after good play on the left wing from Jeremy Helan. That chance should have been converted as the Owls were forced to settle an eighth home draw this season.
Viewpoint: It is the same old story as Wednesday’s troubles at home continue. They just can’t score goals on their own patch and there were signs on Saturday that the crowd are starting to turn on Gray and the team. They desperately need three points to halt their slide down the table.