Sheffield Wednesday 2 Millwall 1: Owls deliver Halloween treat as Jordan Rhodes gets back on the goal trail
Sheffield Wednesday have been on the receiving end of more tricks than treats this season, so no-one connected with the Owls should get carried away after one victory.
But Wednesday exorcised a few demons in their win over a spirited, obdurate Millwall team.
First half goals by Adam Reach and Jordan Rhodes sealed the Owls’ first victory in four matches and eased the pressure on head coach Carlos Carvalhal.
It looked at one stage that their wayward finishing would come back to haunt them when Tom Elliott cancelled out Reach’s early opener.
However, the Owls did not panic and stretched their impressive record on Halloween to 13 matches without defeat in all competitions, a run dating back to 1953.
Scarily good, you might say.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and Carvalhal, looking to address their slump in fortunes, rotated his squad. He changed half of his outfield players, handing starts to Liam Palmer, Glenn Loovens, Morgan Fox, Jacob Butterfield and Rhodes. Jack Hunt, Joost van Aken, Kieran Lee and Steven Fletcher dropped to the bench, with left-back Daniel Pudil missing out due to a hamstring injury.
Wednesday made a strong start and it took them just three minutes to unlock the Lions defence.
Ross Wallace’s crossfield pass was expertly controlled by Fox and his low centre was poked in by Reach. It was the winger’s second goal in the space of four days.
Barry Bannan featured prominently early on. He pulled the strings in the centre and tried his luck from range but Millwall goalkeeper Jordan Archer acrobatically tipped over his rasping left foot shot.
From Wallace’s resulting corner, Fox was twice thwarted at the back post as the Owls pushed hard for a second.
Soon after the Lions equalised when Fred Onyedinma skipped past Loovens and his deflected attempt from the right was turned in from an acute angle by Elliott.
Yet another defensive horror-show for Wednesday, who have chalked up only two clean sheets this season.
Onyedinma, utilised in the number 10 position, was causing the hosts’ new-look back four plenty of problems with his pace and power. He gave them another scare, cleverily shrugging off the attentions of Loovens before fizzing the ball across the face of goal.
The contest continued to ebb and flow and Archer dived to his left to turn away Palmer’s powerful effort in the 25th minute after Conor McLaughlin made a hash of his clearance.
Although the Owls monopolised possession, Millwall were compact defensively and always posed a threat on the counter attack. Keiren Westwood had to be alert to collect Jed Wallace’s cross from the byline.
Wednesday deservedly regained the lead two minute before half-time when Rhodes rose highest to head in Butterfield’s corner.
The sense of relief around Hillsborough was palpable as Rhodes wheeled away in celebration after ending his long goal drought. The striker had gone eight matches without finding the back of the net.
On the stroke of half-time, Rhodes almost added a third. His overhead kick from Palmer’s cross flashed agonisingly off target.
Millwall, who have not won on the road in the second tier since February 2015, refused to go away quietly. And Shane Ferguson could have restored parity in the 51st minute after breaking clear on goal but Westwood rushed off his line to save his low shot.
After being booked for a late challenge on Rhodes, Cooper gave the Owls another fright at the back. The defender planted a free header from Wallace’s free kick straight at Westwood when he should have done better.
Loovens produced an immaculate last-ditch challenge in the penalty area to stop Wallace in his tracks after the winger latched on to George Saville’s near through ball.
Moments later, Rhodes, making his first league start since August 12, nodded narrowly over the bar after good play by Wallace.
The Owls’ £8m record-signing was desperately unlucky not to add a third in the 79th minute. Fox whipped in a peach of a cross and Rhodes’s powerful header struck the post and bounced to safety.
Wednesday kept passing and probing and Butterfield forced Archer into action in the closing stages.
To compound Millwall’s misery, Cooper was sent off in added on time after collecting his second booking of the evening for bringing down Bannan deep inside his own half
The final whistle was greeted by a big roar from the home fans. It was without question the Owls’ most important win of the season.
Owls: Westwood; Palmer, Lees, Loovens, Fox; Wallace (Lee 71), Butterfield, Bannan, Reach; Hooper (Fletcher 78), Rhodes (Jones 87). Substitutes: Wildsmith, Hunt, Van Aken, Joao.
Millwall: Archer; McLaughlin, Hutchinson, Cooper, Meredith (O’Brien 73); Wallace, Tunnicliffe, Saville, Ferguson; Onyedinma (Gregory 66), Elliott (Morison 80). Substitutes: Martin, Craig, Thompson, Remeo.
Referee: James Linington (Newport)