Match analysis: Rejuvenated Sheffield Wednesday end a difficult year with an encouraging display against high-flying West Bromwich Albion
A heartbreaking end to an encouraging week.
Sheffield Wednesday came within touching distance of securing a third straight Championship win under caretaker boss Lee Bullen.
But football can be a cruel sport and midfielder Chris Brunt came back to haunt the Owls, scoring deep into added on time to rescue a point for West Bromwich Albion.
Wednesday, marshalled superbly by Tom Lees and Michael Hector, defended heroically in the second half as the promotion-chasing Baggies laid seige to the Owls' goal.
However, one lapse in concentration from a set piece cost Bullen's side two points, with Owls old boy Brunt stabbing the ball home from inside the six-yard box.
Brunt and Bullen are good pals, having played together at Hillsborough. The pair were part of the 2005 promotion-winning team.
"As soon as I heard the name over the tannoy, I thought 'typical'," said Bullen with a rueful smile.
The late leveller was initially credited as a David Jones own goal, but TV replays suggest Brunt's effort was going on target regardless of whether it ricocheted off Jones or not into the back of the net. Brunt certainly claimed the goal, wheeling away in celebration after helping extend the Baggies run to nine matches.
Bullen said: "I don't know if he got the final touch.
"It was nice to see the kid. He has had a fantastic career. I'm glad he is doing well but I'm gutted he decided to poke a big toe out if it was his touch."
He joked: "What was he doing in the six yard box? He has never gone in there! From 40 yards, I could understand but not from two yards. Ridiculous!"
Wednesday, full of confidence after back-to-back victories, went toe-to-toe with one of the best sides in the league and thoroughly deserved to be ahead at half-time courtesy of Atdhe Nuhiu's fifth minute tap in.
It is a measure of how well the Owls played that WBA, the Championship's top-scorers, failed to register a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.
Captain Lees led by example, Hector was outstanding and full-backs Liam Palmer and Morgan Fox barely put a foot wrong all afternoon.
The visitors were disciplined and well-organised. Players defended as if their lives depended on it. No one could fault their endeavour and energy.
"When I came in, I concentrated on getting the team more compact and tight," admitted Bullen.
With a touch more quality and belief, Wednesday could have been two or three goals to the good at the interval. Marco Matias, a constant nuisance on the left flank, and Fox were both denied by the agility of Sam Johnstone.
It wasÂ Jay Rodriguez's sending off in the 63rdÂ minute that sparked WBA into life. The centre-forward was given his marching orders after allegedly stamping on Matias. It looked harsh. It did not look deliberate or malicious from Rodriguez but referee Andy Davies saw things differently and sent him off after consulting with his linesman.Â
Bullen said:Â "If I'm being honest, I thought he [Rodriguez] had maybe caught Marco.
"I thought it was a yellow but I was surprised when he gave the red. It seemed to galvanise them.'
The Baggies intend to appeal the decision. If it stands, Rodriguez faces a three-match suspension.
'Jay is an honest hard-working individual," said WBA boss Darren Moore.Â "When he came off he said: 'gaffer, I didn't touch him'.
"I believe that. It looked a nothing incident.'
LATE SUCKER PUNCH
The hosts went for broke, with Moore making a triple substitution. Cameron Dawson, recalled in goal after Bullen opted to rest Keiren Westwood, produced a stunning save to keep outÂ Hal Robson-Kanu's header.
But Brunt scrambled in a late equaliser to deny Dawson a clean sheet.
Bullen said:Â 'We're devastated for Cammy. He knows how well he played. For all the pressure that they had, I can't remember Cammy having an absolute worldy save to make. He had a couple of blocks and long range efforts which he had to save.
'I'm devastated for the kid. He deserved more for his performance.'
A draw, on the balance of play, was a fair result and it is the second time WBA have pegged Wednesday back late on this season.
"I am sure that Darren feels like it is a victory but I thought that we had done enough,' said Bullen.
"It is very frustrating but the players deserve a lot of credit.
"The disappointing thing is when they went down to 10 men, we didn't show enough composure on the ball. We kept handing the ball back to them.'
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
Wednesdayites travelled in their droves to The Hawthorns. They were in fine voice and stayed behind to clap the team off.
It is a shame the Owls could not end a difficult year on a winning note but most supporters would have taken a point beforehand.Â
"The fans have been through a lot of ups and downs over the last calendar year,' said Bullen.
"Hopefully the last three performances have lifted a few heads. I hope the lads can go out and show what they are really capable of against Birmingham and put in a good performance.'
What Bullen has done in a little over a week has been nothing short of remarkable. He has revitalised the side. He has restored pride, put passion back into the shirts and the Owls will enter 2019 in better shape thanks to him.