Defeat No 2 gives Owls play-off jitters ... Leeds United 1 Sheffield Wednesday 0
As the final scoreline suggests, Sheffield Wednesday lost this Yorkshire derby by the finest of margins.
There was little to choose between the Owls and Leeds United. They went into Saturday’s lunch-time clash level on points. Both clubs are in the hunt for promotion.
There were few clear-cut chances. They cancelled each other out for long periods. Both clubs registered only one shot on target.
There were two key moments. Leeds seized their chance. Wednesday didn’t.
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It was a close contest between two evenly-matched sides but the Owls failed to deliver in the big moments. It was exactly the same on the road against promotion rivals Reading and Brighton and Hove Albion.
Head coach Carlos Carvalhal has vowed to fight the “virus” of negativity he believes is threatening to derail their promotion tilt. He may be desperate to banish the “dark clouds” threatening to engulf the Hillsborough outfit but his team are under-performing right now.
Wednesday’s wait for a win at Elland Road goes on after Chris Wood’s predatory 24th-minute finish condemned Carvalhal’s men to a second consecutive Championship defeat. The result means the Owls have won just once on their last nine trips to West Yorkshire.
Jordan Rhodes had a chance to equalise from the penalty spot after the restart when Souleymane Doukara was penalised for fouling Sam Hutchinson but Robert Green denied the striker from 12 yards.
It is the first time Rhodes has finished on the losing side in 11 matches against Leeds.
What will frustrate and annoy Carvalhal and his coaching staff is that Leeds, who have now won eight of their last nine home matches, didn’t have to work hard at all for their goal. It was shambolic defending by Wednesday.
When Gaetano Berardi received the ball out wide, he looked just offside. Perhaps the rub of the green didn’t go the Owls’ way on that occasion.
But Wednesday switched off as a defensive unit, allowing Berardi to whip in a cross with his weaker right foot. There was no pressure on the ball. Ross Wallace should have closed him down quicker.
Glenn Loovens stepped up to try to catch Leeds offside but the trap horribly backfired, with Jack Hunt playing Wood on.
However, the fatal miscalculation came from Vincent Sasso, who inexplicably ducked when he could have headed away Berardi’s delivery.
Wood immaculately controlled the centre before calmly poking in his 23rd goal of the season.
“Leeds scored with the one mistake we made,” admitted Carvalhal. “It was hesitation at that moment.
“Sometimes professionals do mistakes but it is part of the game.”
Without Tom Lees, the Owls’ defence looks frail and unconvincing. Five goals have been leaked in the last four matches. They were made to pay dearly for their one lapse in concentration against their great Yorkshire rivals.
Ex-Wednesday boss Brian Laws remarked: “It was one mistake that has ended up being very costly. You look at fractions - that mistake from Sasso will prove a very costly one.
“You can’t leave the ball to a man in as rich form as Wood is.”
For all of their possession, the Owls were bereft of ideas in the final third. They struggled to break down a well-drilled Leeds team.
But Carvalhal’s charges were handed a lifeline eight minutes after the break when Doukara was adjudged to have impeded Hutchinson from a corner.
Rhodes took over the penalty responsibilities from Fernando Forestieri, who fluffed his lines at Brighton. His spot-kick was weak and lacked accuracy and Green dived to his left to pull off a smart save.
Green said: “We do our homework every day with the penalty-takers. We came up with a theory and you’ve got to stick to it.
“I did my homework and thankfully it paid off.”
As has largely been the case since joining the Owls earlier this month, Rhodes had to feed on scraps.
Time and time again Wednesday adopted the direct approach but the Scotland international was well shackled in the air by Kyle Bartley and Pontus Jansson. The Owls are not playing to Rhodes’ strengths and he was subbed off midway through the second half.
Wednesday shaded a scrappy second half but Forestieri, Loovens and Barry Bannan failed to test Green as Leeds secured their first double over the Owls in 17 years.
Carvalhal said: “We didn’t make too many chances but neither did Leeds.
“We didn’t lose the game because we didn’t try. We fought a lot and created a big chance with the penalty.
“A penalty is part of the game. We win together and we lose together. The responsibility is not to any one player.
“I’m the person who assumes all the responsibility. The mistakes of my players is my mistakes.”
WORK TO DO
While Leeds’ win lifted them above Reading into fourth, the Owls are looking nervously over their shoulder following back-to-back losses.
For Wednesday to confirm a play-off spot, the team have to quickly improve their decision-making at both ends of the pitch.
As Carvalhal has pointed out, March is now a “critical month” for Wednesday.
The team need a healthy points return from their four fixtures, with Fulham, Preson North End and Norwich City, who they host on Saturday, edging ever nearer to them.
With a dozen matches left, the Owls are masters of their own destiny but the pressure is on Carvalhal’s squad to make sure it stays that way.