Match report: Sheffield Wednesday 1 Birmingham City 1
It is testament to how well the Owls performed in their first fixture of 2019 that thousands of Wednesdayites stayed behind to clap the team off at Hillsborough.
The Owls put in a vibrant, energetic, attacking performance against play-off contenders Birmingham City and should have recorded a third win in four matches under caretaker boss Lee Bullen.
But a combination of superb goalkeeping from Lee Camp and wayward finishing saw Wednesday throw away a lead for the second match running.Â Camp produced a string of excellent saves to frustrateÂ Bullen's men, who created enough opportunities in the second half to have won three games.
However,Â the Owls failed to build on Steven Fletcher's 18th minute opener and Birmingham punished them for one sloppy piece of defending just after half-time. Former Sheffield United youngster Che Adams pounced to ensure it finished honours even.
"I think we dominated for 80 minutes,' said Bullen. 'We had a 10 minute spell in the second half which we got punished for and you are going to get that with a team in very good form prior to this fixture.
"Garry [Monk] and his staff have done a fantastic job with Birmingham. They are playing with a lot of confidence and have had some outstanding results.
"But I must admit in the first half, I thought we were the teams with the legs, the energy and quality.
"I think we needed to take our chances when they came. We took one of them but you know if you don't get that second or third goal there is always going to be a chance that they are going to score.
"We are disappointed with the goal and the team are disappointed with the way we started the second half.Â But the reaction to losing that goal was second to none.
"Our fans left the ground disappointed with the result but they gave the players a big reception at the end and I think they were delighted with the overall performance.'
Wednesday, lining up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, looked bright in possession from the off and caused Birmingham plenty of problems.
Barry Bannan pulled the strings in midfield for the Owls. He was the architect of the first chance of the afternoon, floating in a teasing cross towards the back post which Adam Reach volleyed over.
Bannan's set pieces also gave the Blues plenty to ponder, with his corner steered narrowly wide by Michael Hector from inside the six-yard box in the 16th minute.
Moments later, Wednesday's pressure paid off when Fletcher, recalled to the attack at the expense of Atdhe Nuhiu, fired them deservedly in front. Captain Tom Lees nodded down Bannan's free-kick and Fletcher expertly hooked the ball home. It was Fletcher's fourth goal of the campaign and his second against Birmingham this season.
There was plenty to admire about the Owls' first half performance. They were aggressive and played on the front foot, pressing and harrying Birmingham into mistakes in front of the biggest Hillsborough crowd of the season. The visitors had no answer.
Marco Matias typified their hard-working display by twice tracking back to dispossess Wes Harding and then Wednesday old boy Jacques Maghoma to compound the Blues' frustrations.
Matias worked tirelessly on the left flank and almost got on the scoresheet in the 34th minute after latching on to Bannan's majestic throughball but Camp rushed off his line to block the Portuguese forward's effort.
Just as he was in the reverse fixture, Fletcher was a constant thorn in Birmingham's side. His 44th minute bullet header from Matias's cross from the right was cleared off the line by Harlee Dean but referee Andy Woolmer had already blown for a free kick as Fletcher was penalised for pushing Michael Morrison in the back.
Against the run of play, Lukas Jutkiewicz nearly equalised on the stroke of half-time after a well-worked Blues free kick but the striker's left foot piledriver flew just wide.
Birmingham manager Garry Monk looked to inject some fresh legs and purpose into his weary-looking side, taking off the anonymous Maghoma for Connor Mahoney.
Whatever Monk said to his players at the interval worked a treat as Adams restored parity in the 48th minute. The former Blades striker raced on to Jutkiewicz's flick on, shrugging off the attentions of Michael Hector before rifling an unstoppable right foot drive beyond Keiren Westwood, who was given the nod in goal over Cameron Dawson.
It took a while for Wednesday to regain their verve and poise after Adams' poacher's finish.
Attacking the Kop end, George Boyd clipped a delightful pass into the path of Reach, whose stinging left foot effort was parried by Camp. Fletcher's follow up was brilliantly blocked by Gary Gardner as the Owls pressed hard for a second.
Matias and Fletcher were also thwarted in quick succession by the agility of Camp as Bullen's side pinned Birmingham back.
But the Blues, lying just outside of the play-off positions following an impressive run of results, carried a greater attacking threat in the second half and Jota dragged wide when well-placed after another promising counter attack.
The bulk of the opportunities continued to fall to Wednesday and Bannan showed great vision and technique midway through the half to send Fletcher scampering clear. The Scotland international tried his luck from an acute angle but Camp was equal to his powerful shot.
Bullen said: "He [Camp] was a pain in the backside! He's an experienced campaigner who has been there, seen it and done it.
"He pulled off some wonderful saves and was probably man of the match.
Birmingham substitute Craig Gardner came within a whisker of delivering a knockout blow late on. Monk's men were awarded a free kick after a clumsy challenge by Morgan Fox on Adams and Gardner's 25 yard free kick clipped the outside of the post.
That was not the end of the drama, though, as Wednesday launched one final attack, with Camp making a fantastic double save to foil Nuhiu. Reach then fizzed the ball across the face of goal which Matias on the stretch missed as the Blues held on for a point.
'Credit to Birmingham,' said Bullen. 'When you don't play well, the next best thing is to ensure you don't lose the game and that's what they have did.
"We are very, very frustrated.
"I thought we played some fantastic football at times and I think the energy levels shown were brilliant.
"As a coach, that's what you want.
"If you continue doing that, you will get the breaks.'
It was an encouraging Wednesday and the result stretched their unbeaten run under Bullen to four matches but it was two points dropped.