NEARLY all season Wednesday have lacked a striker who can poach a vital goal and swing a close contest their way.
Enter Leroy Lita.
Three shots, all three on target, and one of them a match-winner.
He was helped by a deflection but the new boy showed the art of getting into the right positions and doing the right thing at the right time.
Although Dave Jones called it a “scruffy” goal, it left the Owls’ recent away form in almost spotless condition and cleaned up the points against Charlton for the second time this season.
It was tight contest on Saturday, settled ultimately by Wednesday’s staying power, will to win and the finishing inside the last six minutes (plus five of stoppage time) of Lita and Reda Johnson, whose soaring header for the equaliser atoned for him missing a sitter just before half-time.
Did the Owls deserve it? Just about, for the way, after an evenly-fought first half, they attacked the Addicks in the second, refused to be beaten and fought back from going one down against the run of play.
There were solid, if not exceptional, performances from the Owls in every department; they lacked the pace of Jeremy Helan on the left wing, but Danny Pugh made a sound debut in a different way, with positional play, neat passing, and a left foot that was useful at right-side corners - one made a headed chance for Anthony Gardner in the first half.
Jermaine Johnson worked hard and figured in some of the best moments with his running and passing, plus a shot that flew just wide after a great run, and he opened up the defence for Lita to score. One volley over the stand was not quite so accurate!
When chasing the game, Wednesday sent on Gary Madine and Lita, to play up front, and switched JJ and Michail Antonio to the wings. Madine played his part, winning headers and posing the home defence a different problem.
But Lita stole the show.
His first touch came when he flicked on a header; his second involvement brought a shot that was on target and deflected for a corner.
Soon afterwards he had a crack at goal from a narrow angle and forced Ben Hamer into the only save of the game.
The Owls could have been two down and out of it when winger Scott Wagstaff hit the post in the 68th minute, and they were fortunate when Michael Morrison headed against the crossbar in the first half.
But both teams had their near misses, and Wednesday’s included a 53rd-minute drive by Antonio that sped narrowly wide. Reda Johnson’s first opportunity was probably the chance of the match - the ball dropped to him after Miguel
Llera challenged the keeper for a Lewis Buxton cross.
Buxton also provided the right-wing cross for the equaliser.Johnson leaped at the far corner of the six-yard box to direct his header into the top corner, a fifth of the season from few appearances, showing that, considering he is a defender, he too has a scoring knack.
Lita showed a natural striker’s instinct in notching the 106th goal of his career: JJ attacked in the inside-right position, slipped the ball into the middle to the sub, and he clipped a right-foot shot that beat Hamer to his left.
“I knew what JJ was going to do,” said the on-loan striker from Swansea. “He put the ball there; I knew I had no time to take a touch It took it first time; it took a deflection but I’ll take that. They all count.
“I’m a goalscorer and I’ll take any goal. If it comes off my shin, or hits somebody, it
doesn’t matter. It’s always nice to get off the mark at your club. The lads played really well and hung in there.
“It was a bad goal for us go give away but we kept going.
“Dave Jones gave me the chance to come here and play. It’s pleasing to be on the pitch again and to score the goal that got us three points. My goal won the game but the lads were brilliant.”
Jones opted to start with Pugh because he is an experienced left-side player, and to have moved JJ or Antonio would have meant breaking up their partnership, plus Lita did not meet up with the Owls until Friday evening at their hotel, so began on the bench.
The decisions to take off Pugh and Kieran Lee in the second half meant more attacking emphasis after the team had gone behind. Charlton’s goal, straight from Wednesday’s corner, came from a break down the right, a cross into the middle, a lay-off and a shot in off the post.
Addicks manager Chris Powell saw the Wagstaff shot that hit the post at 1-0 as a key moment.
But Jones reflected: “We weren’t in any danger in the first half. Reda scuffed that one wide but he made up for it with a super header. It’s about time we scored a scruffy one (Lita’s winner). I’m pleased for Leroy. It’s nice for a player when you score the winner on your debut. He’ll be a hero now.
“It’s nice when you have a striker who can get the scruffy ones; he’s done that all his career, as well getting the good ones.
“He’s a goalscorer. One or two people can
watch him and learn from him.”
Jones added: “If Charlton had scored when they hit the post, that would have made it hard for us, but I thought we were terrific in the second half. Our energy levels were fantastic on a tacky pitch.
“We tried to get it down and play, we had good movement. We had a difficult game against them at home, and this was a dificult one - I’m pleased with we kept driving at them and caused them all sorts of problems.”