Sheffield Wednesday match verdict: Owls 1 Fulham 1

Stevie May scores. Picture: Steve Ellis
Stevie May scores. Picture: Steve Ellis
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The sooner Sheffield Wednesday get a new pitch at Hillsborough the better.

There is little grass left on the present playing surface. It is a tricky, bobbly pitch which makes controlling, passing and shooting a bit of a lottery for both teams.

Following Dejphon Chansiri’s £37.5 million takeover of the Championship club a fortnight ago, the new Owls owner quickly pledged to spend £1m on a new pitch.

Work is set to begin on the much-maligned surface on Sunday, April 26, a day after their final home match of the season against Leeds United.

Fresh from scoring his seventh goal in Owls colours in Saturday’s home draw with Fulham, striker Stevie May said: “The pitch is not ideal. It’s a similar surface to Blackpool’s and is worse than some of the pitches I played on in Scotland. I played on a lot of bad pitches in Scotland but that is definitely up there.

“It’s hard to get the ball down and play but you have to adapt your game to try and make it a positive.

“We have to try and make it an advantage and be able to play on it once every couple of weeks.”

The next time Wednesday are due to play on their patch is April 4 versus Huddersfield Town. Charlton Athletic, Brentford and Leeds have also yet to make the trip to South Yorkshire but former St Johnstone forward May insists they must find a way of turning around their Hillsborough fortunes.

“The pitch is there and we can’t change it so there’s no point in us using it as an excuse,” he said. “The new owners have said they are going to look to address it but the pitch is the same for both teams and we have to get used to it until the end of the season.”

After another frustrating home draw, the Owls’ coaching staff and players will probably be relishing the prospect of back-to-back away matches. So too will Wednesdayites who have been starved of wins, goals and entertainment on their own turf during the 2014/15 campaign.

The bottom line is that Wednesday’s results have been desperately disappointing at home. Four wins from 19 league fixtures is relegation form. It is just as well they have regularly ground out results on the road or Stuart Gray’s men could have become embroiled in the scrap at the wrong end of the table.

Gray admitted: “Thankfully, we’ve only got four more games on that pitch. We want to play out from the thirds. The last thing I want to do is see the ball whacked 70 or 80 yards up the field.

“When we get a new pitch next season, we will play out from the back and through the thirds.”

Owls chief Gray blamed the state of the pitch for the two injuries they picked up in the first half against Fulham. Liam Palmer and Will Keane suffered ankle injuries and are big doubts for tomorrow night’s clash at Wolves. Palmer was stretchered off and, along with Keane, left the ground wearing precautionary protective boots.

“It’s a big blow and it’s bad enough losing one player to injury, never mind two,” said Gray, who planned to send the pair for a scan. “It looks like they both have ankle ligament injuries.

“They wanted to carry on so it’s very frustrating.”

As Gray pointed out post-match, the first half was a “poor” spectacle. It was a complete non-event as both teams cancelled each other out.

Chris Maguire’s low drive was smartly pushed away by Marcus Bettinelli but the best chance dropped to May. The Scotland international, who replaced Keane in the 42nd minute, sliced his effort into the arms of Bettinelli after a neat downward header by Atdhe Nuhiu.

But May made amends 10 minutes after the interval, glancing in Lewis McGugan’s superb left-footed delivery.

Gray said: “Stevie had a great chance in the first half which he snatched at. He kept on going, got in front of the defender and guided his header in.

“Stevie is like any striker; he wants to score goals. He doesn’t hide. He could easily be on 12 to 14 goals with the amount of chances we have created for him. He’s a good player.

“He’s still a kid. He got a goal against Fulham and could have got two. That will give him confidence. Forwards thrive on goals. He will feel like a million dollars because he’s putting the ball back in the net.”

After May’s strike, the Owls missed a couple of opportunities to double their advantage. Substitute Marnick Vermijl and Nuhiu tested Bettinelli’s reflexes and Fulham punished their wayward finishing by levelling things up with 15 minutes remaining.

Matt Smith made no mistake from close range, firing a shot past Keiren Westwood via the underside of the crossbar, after referee Andy Woolmer waved play on after Ryan Tunnicliffe was sent tumbling in the penalty area following a tangle with Vermijl. Tunnicliffe kept his composure to poke the ball into the path of Smith, who notched his second goal in as many matches. Both bosses disagreed on the big striker’s controversial strike.

Gray said: “I think the referee shouted ‘play on’ because he presumed the lad had dived.

“That’s what the lads are saying so if he thought he dived you would have thought he’d have pulled up and given us a free-kick.

“You’re taught as kid, you play until the whistle goes, and we did seem to stop. I’m disappointed that the referee didn’t give a free-kick for simulation but you’ve got to play until you hear the whistle go.”

Fulham manager Kit Symons was unsure about Tunnicliffe’s tumble but relieved they got back into the contest.

“I was appealing for it (a penalty) as you would imagine but, listen, either way I was just pleased to have got the goal in the end,” he said.

“I thought it was a good break from us actually, good build-up play. They were appealing for offside against Matt but I spoke to some of their guys afterwards and they were quite happy that he was onside in the end.”

As May conceded, Wednesday rode their luck late on.

Fulham’s substitutes, Cauley Woodrow and Seko Fofana, stretched the hosts’ tired-looking backline and it took a smart stop from Westwood to foil Smith, with Kostas Stafylidis lifting the rebound over.

Ross McCormack curled a free-kick on to the roof of the net as Wednesday dug in for their ninth home draw of the season.

For Gray’s troops to equal their highest finish since relegation from the Premier League in 2000 - ninth place in 2006-07 under Brian Laws, they simply must rectify their lousy home form.

Wednesday: Westwood 6; Palmer 6 (Vermijl 29*, 6), Lees 7, Dielna 6, Helan 6; Lee 6 (Maghoma 90***) McGugan 7, Hutchinson 6, Maguire 6; Nuhiu 6, Keane 6 (May 42**, 6). Substitutes: Kirkland, Buxton, Mattock, Melo.

Fulham: Bettinelli 6; Richards 6, Turner 7, Hutchinson 7, Stafylidis 6; Hoogland 6 (Woodrow 69*), Parker 6, Tunnicliffe 6, Kavanagh 6 (Fofana 70**); Smith 7, McCormack 6. Substitutes: Kiraly, Bodurov, Roberts, Rodallega, Grimmer.

Manager’s view - Stuart Gray: “The game wasn’t one for the purists. The most important thing is probably getting to the 50-point mark; that’s probably the only positive to have come out of the game. It was a poor game. The game wasn’t conducive for football. It became an open game. We attacked, they attacked, but the pitch didn’t allow for any real quality in the game.”

Manager’s view - Kit Symons: “We were a goal down away from home and we needed to get something out of it so I had to make positive substitutions and act quite early. That’s what we did and it paid off on the day. It doesn’t always work like that, trust me. We knew about the state of the pitch coming into it. It is what it is and you get on with it.”

Hero: Lewis McGugan stood out in midfield. The Watford loanee kept things nicely ticking over in the centre and looked one of the few players capable of taming the Hillsborough pitch. His delivery for Stevie May’s goal was outstanding.

Key moment: Fulham’s equaliser. Up to that point, the Owls seemed on course to record back-to-back league wins and equal a club-record 17th clean sheet. The contest could have gone either way after Smith’s goal.

Viewpoint: Wednesday’s home form remains their Achilles heel. They had chances to put the match out of Fulham’s reach but failed to take them. These are the sort of games the Owls should be winning and they can’t hide behind the poor state of the Hillsborough pitch.

Ref watch: Andy Woolmer. The Northamptonshire official angered Gray by not penalising Ryan Tunnicliffe for diving in the build-up to Fulham’s equaliser. Woolmer issued three yellow cards, including bookings to Marnick Vermijl and Kieran Lee.