Sheffield Wednesday 2 Brentford 1: Hooper and Wallace strike as Owls' class tells
Carlos Carvalhal remains firmly convinced that Sheffield Wednesday are in a good place.
Writing in his Brentford programme notes, the Owls boss said: “We have made the best start so far in my three seasons at Sheffield Wednesday and I know we will get stronger and stronger.”
Carvalhal is spot on. His Wednesday team are improving and look in good shape to compete for a top-six finish for the third year running.
They didn’t panic after falling behind against a spirited, technically accomplished Brentford side.
Ultimately, the Owls’ class told and goals either side of half-time from Gary Hooper and Ross Wallace helped them seal back-to-back league wins for the first time this season.
They were made to work for the victory but got the job done in the end.
It was a patchy performance but Carvalhal won’t care as it maintained their upward momentum. That’s now six Championship matches without defeat.
Their good form prompted Carvalhal to keep faith with the same team who impressively beat Nottingham Forest, with Jack Hunt, Ross Wallace, Kieran Lee and Steven Fletcher all winning their fitness battles.
But Carvalhal, serving the final game of his two-match touchline ban, made one tactical change, moving Barry Bannan into the centre and deploying Kieran Lee on the left wing.
At a rain-lashed S6, Brentford stunned the home crowd by taking a shock ninth minute lead in front of the Kop.
It was a goalkeeping howler by Keiren Westwood, who spilled a weak left footed volley by midfielder Nico Yennaris. Westwood, usually so reliable in between the sticks, should have kept it out, although the Owls defence felt the offside flag ought to have been raised.
Despite going behind, Wednesday refused to let their heads drop and Wallace tricked his way into the penalty area before seeing his fierce shot acrobatically tipped over by Daniel Bentley.
Captain Tom Lee also went close with a header as the hosts looked for a quick response.
Buoyed after scoring their first goal away from Griffin Park this season, the Bees continued to pose a big threat on the counter attack.
Neal Maupay was unlucky not to double their advantage in the 23rd minute. Despite the hosts protests, the lone striker beat the offside trap only to see his left foot drive pushed around the post by Westwood.
With John Egan marshalling the defence superbly and Ryan Woods pulling the strings in midfield, Brentford had the better of the first half. You would never have known they had gone six league matches without a win.
Dean Smith’s men created a number of opportunities but their finishing left a lot to be desired. Maupay dragged a shot wide after Hunt produced an important block to stop Romaine Sawyers goalbound attempt.
Their wastefulness in front of goal came back to haunt them on the stroke of half-time when Hooper claimed his third goal in as many outings. The striker collected a lovely pass by Adam Reach, cleverly sidestepped Rico Henry and dinked the ball deftly over the advancing Bentley.
Egan desperately tried to stop the ball going over the line but the centre-back only succeeded in diverting it on to the post and Hooper tapped in the loose ball.
Hooper’s strike came against the run of play and let Wednesday off the hook following an unconvincing, disjointed display. They needed a moment of inspiration to get them back into the contest and Hooper provided a rare piece of genuine quality.
There was more urgency and tempo about the Owls’ play after the restart and Bannan’s stinging low shot was gathered by Bentley at the second time of asking.
The balance in midfield looked far better after Carvalhal switched to a diamond, with Lee playing at the tip of it and David Jones deployed at the base. After Swayers sliced wide when well-placed for Brentford, Lee forced Bentley into action at the other end.
Carvalhal freshened up his attacking options after the hour mark, throwing on Jordan Rhodes for the tiring Fletcher. Rhodes added a bright spark and he saw a cross deflected on to the top of the net.
Wednesday took control of proceedings as the Bees ran out of ideas and Bannan, an influential figure in the second half, lashed over after intricate build-up play involving Hooper and Wallace.
And the hosts pressure duly paid when Wallace stabbed home from inside the six-yard box after Rhodes intelligently peeled away to the back post and headed the ball back across the face of goal.
There was no disputing Brentford’s spirit or determination and substitute Florian Jozefzoon fizzed a centre across the face of goal before Yennaris fired straight at Westwood.
Play was delayed for 14 minutes in added on time on after Dalsgaard sustained a serious-looking injury and had to be stretchered off.
Plucky Brentford almost snatched a draw with the last kick of the contest but Maupay’s speculative effort hit the post.
It was not aesthetically pleasing but Wednesday dug deep to claim three precious points.
Owls: Westwood; Hunt, Lees, van Aken, Reach; Wallace, Jones, Lee, Bannan (Pudil 87); Fletcher (Rhodes 63), Hooper (Butterfield 81). Substitutes: Wildsmith, Palmer, Joao, Matias.
Brentford: Bentley; Dalsgaard, Egan, Barbet, Henry; Woods, Yennaris (Shaibu 84); Sawyers, Clarke (Jozefzoon 63), Watkins (McEachran 71); Maupay. Substitutes: Daniels, Bjelland, Mokotjo, Chatzitheodorodis.
Star man: Jack Hunt
Referee: Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire)