March 29, 2014 should have been a day to remember for two members of Sheffield Wednesday’s management staff.
Owls head coach Stuart Gray attended his son’s wedding while Lee Bullen, who joined the club’s first-team coaching set-up on a permanent basis in February, celebrated his 43rd birthday.
Unfortunately for the duo, Watford took some of the shine off their weekend by thrashing Wednesday 4-1 at Hillsborough for the second successive season. Defensively the Owls were torn apart by a side who had not won on their travels since the beginning of October.
Much will be made of Gray’s decision to miss the match but it was an agreement put in place when he first joined the South Yorkshire outfit as first-team coach back in December 2012. He prepared the squad in training and selected the team to face Watford. The truth is the players let him down on Saturday. When the team cross that white line, it is up to them to deliver and they failed to execute Gray’s strategy.
Coach John Deehan, who was put in joint charge of the team along with Bullen, said he was not in contact with Gray throughout the Watford thrashing.
“Everything was done on Friday,” he said. “I think we know the circumstances he’s in and with all due respect, family comes before football.
“I would like to think the players are professional enough to get on with it. We’ve just had a chat in the dressing room between all of us and we’ve had some very strong opinions. Football players don’t like getting beaten in games, that’s for certain, and they don’t like to get beaten in the manner that they did today.”
When the two teams last met back in December, Wednesday triumphed 1-0 as they recorded their first away victory and clean sheet of the 2013/14 campaign. And they’ve only got themselves to blame for not completing the double as they simply weren’t ruthless enough in the final third while they shipped in four sloppy goals.
The opener came after five minutes when Daniel Tozer lifted a free kick into the penalty area and Ranegie’s downward header was only partially stopped by Kirkland, allowing Gabriele Angella to touch in the loose ball.
Deehan admitted: “The performance fell below the level we’ve been performing at before. We seemed to start lethargically. Their first attack exposed us straight away to pace and to concede that early put us on the back foot. It came from a free kick we have been excellent at defending and Stuart has a programme in place to deal with that sort of situation. Unfortunately we didn’t.”
Liam Palmer, Lewis Buxton and Chris Maguire all went close for the Owls before the visitors doubled their lead. Ranegie flicked on Almunia’s goal kick to release Pudil down the left flank. He dribbled towards the byline and swung in a cross which was headed in by McGugan. Yet more shoddy defending.
The hosts created plenty of chances in each half but lacked a killer instinct in front of goal. Almunia beat away Benik Afobe’s rasping right foot drive while Leon Best, from an acute angle, nodded Maguire’s dangerous free kick wide on the stroke of half-time.
You get punished in the Championship when you don’t convert your opportunities and Troy Deeney underlined that by notching a quick-fire second-half double.
Ikechi Anya was at the heart of Watford’s third in the 49th minute, sliding a lovely pass through to the in-form striker, who beat Wednesday’s off-side trap before nonchalantly poking a shot past Kirkland.
Two minutes later, Watford added a fourth when McGugan wriggled his way past Buxton on the right before seeing his fierce drive loop into the air off Onyewu. Anya kept the move alive and fed Ranegie, who struck the post with a low right foot effort before Deeney, at the second time of asking, smashed in his 20th goal of the campaign. Queue boos from the Wednesday faithful.
To their credit, they refused to throw in the towel and Afobe stooped to powerfully head in his second goal since moving to South Yorkshire in the 54th minute following Palmer’s glorious right wing cross. The problem was that all the damage had already been done by that stage.
Maguire reacted angrily to being taken off in the 64th minute, walking straight down the tunnel.
Deehan said: “Chrissy came off the pitch and I think he was very disappointed. I think any of the players who come off the pitch would be disappointed when you have had such a poor performance. Individually it doesn’t look good on you.
“I can’t knock Chris for being disappointed at being replaced in a game where the club have played poorly. I would have felt that way as a player.
“It (going down the tunnel) is not something you want to see and we will deal with that in-house.”
Things might have been different if Wednesday had been more clinical. In the final quarter of the contest, substitute Atdhe Nuhiu headed straight at Almunia, Onyewu’s looping header bounced back off the bar and Kieran Lee was denied in stoppage time by the reflexes of Almunia.
Deehan said: “Troy Deeney is one of the most powerful, strongest players in the league so having to press on and try for an equaliser as quickly as possible put us in a vulnerable situation.
“We conceded the second just before half-time yet on the balance of play it could have been 2-2.
“We changed shape (to 4-4-2) at half-time to try and become a more attack-minded team. We went out with the best intention of trying to score the next goal but it went three and four quickly and it put us on the back foot.”