Dull spectacle, poor performance, terrible result.
There were no fireworks on Bonfire Night from a Sheffield Wednesday perspective. Indeed, the Owls rarely looked capable of creating a spark to break down a well-organised, stubborn opponent.
The ‘Ipswich wall’, as Carlos Carvalhal called it, held firm but, in truth, its foundations were never seriously tested.
The final whistle was greeted by boos around Hillsborough and the fans’ frustration was understandable after a laboured, lack-lustre showing.
As woeful as Wednesday were, take nothing away from Ipswich. A section of the Tractor Boys supporters had turned on Barnsley-born manager Mick McCarthy following their draw against bottom-of-the-table Rotherham United. Criticism over his style of play and a sense of stagnation had increased the pressure surrounding McCarthy’s position.
McCarthy’s team showed their mettle and skipper Luke Chambers capped a fine away day by grabbing an 87th-minute winner. The defender headed home from close range after Christophe Berra had nodded on Grant Ward’s free-kick.
Victory extended McCarthy’s unbeaten league record against the Owls as a manager to 14, including eight wins.
As for Wednesday, it was a second successive league defeat and they only have themselves to blame following an insipid display.
When Gary Hooper pounced to claim his fifth goal of the campaign in the 36th minute to cancel out Tom Lawrence’s stunning solo strike, most people inside the ground probably thought it would be just a case of how many goals the hosts would win by given the team’s respective league positions. But Ipswich defied the odds to move up to 15th.
MAKING LIFE HARD
It seems the Owls are always intent on making life more difficult than it needs to be. For the 10th time in 16 league outings, Wednesday fell behind.
Ipswich, who travelled to South Yorkshire having not won on the road in almost two months, broke the deadlock after Leicester City loanee Lawrence ran half the length of the pitch before drilling an unstoppable right foot shot into the bottom corner beyond a helpless Keiren Westwood. It was a sublime piece of individual brilliance by the Welsh international, but somebody in the Owls defence should have stopped him in his tracks.
Lawrence’s opener gave Ipswich a much-needed lift following their disappointing run of results. Up to that point, both teams had appeared bereft of ideas in the final third.
“I must accept that we didn’t perform at our level and I hope that will be an exception,” conceded head coach Carvalhal. “We didn’t perform well.
“We were lacking energy and hit a wall. We must be more dynamic and have a different attitude.
“The performance was a shadow of how we have been playing more recently.”
SO WASTEFUL IN FRONT OF GOAL
The honour of scoring the 100th goal of Carvalhal’s reign fell to Hooper but the fact is Ipswich were more clinical than Wednesday. The visitors scored from their only shots on target.
After half-time, Ipswich goalkeeper Bartosz Białkowski produced a smart save to deny Hooper a second, with Kieran Lee stabbing the follow-up narrowly wide.
Steven Fletcher, preferred to Fernando Forestieri up front, then headed over when well-placed after Jack Hunt’s inviting delivery.
“It was a very poor performance on the offensive part,” admitted Carvalhal. “We knew Ipswich were solid and don’t give many goals away.
“We knew we must be very dynamic and aggressive to open spaces and we weren’t.We didn’t play our football.
“We need to be better; we need to be more aggressive all over the pitch.”
Ipswich finished the contest in the ascendancy. Freddie Sears was foiled by good goalkeeping and Tom Lees prevented a certain goal late on, producing a vital tackle inside the six-yard box to stop substitute Jonathan Williams tapping in Ward’s cross.
It was no surprise when Chambers delivered the killer blow.
BIG ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Too much of Wednesday’s play was ponderous and predictable. It was too easy to defend against.
The Owls lost their midfield balance and shape when Carvalhal took off David Jones with 16 minutes left. Jones was Wednesday’s best performer on a cold, forgettable afternoon and Ipswich had far more room to manoeuvre in the centre after he was withdrawn.
As McCarthy put it pre-match, you’re only ever “two or three moves from going from God to dog” in management.
Things have moved on since Wednesday reached the Play-off Final. Expectation levels have increased and the fans rightly expect better.
The Owls invested heavily in the squad over the summer in their bid to push for a top-two finish. A third of the way through the campaign and Wednesday trail second-placed Brighton by 10 points. Efforts must be doubled to close the gap on the leaders.