Sheffield Wednesday: Why only the fans deserve any credit ... Bristol City 4 Owls 0
At about 3.15 on Saturday afternoon, it became abundantly clear just why Bristol City had worked so hard to ensure that their game against Sheffield Wednesday would go ahead, despite the temporary wintry engagement of Storm Emma and the Beast from the East.
This was a City side that had been excellent in the first half of the season, yet suffered more than a blip at the turn of the year, having registered just one win in 2018.
The visit of a weak Wednesday outfit, in every imaginable sense, would provide an excellent opportunity for the Robins to get their promotion challenge back up and running. And that’s exactly how it transpired.
To the credit of those who battled the sub-zero temperatures, the pitch and the surrounding areas at Ashton Gate were in decent condition, though the cancellation of trains meant that not all the 1,800 Owls fans who were due to make the trip managed to get to the South-west.
Those who did get there were probably wishing the team hadn’t.
Wednesday were far behind Bristol City in every department. Their passing was atrocious in comparison, the defence showed a hugely worrying lack of solidity, there was no creativity and little or no attacking threat whatsoever.
Only for the weather being as it was, City’s players could have thrown down a towel and spent the second half having a rest, for this match was over by half-time and probably well before it.
This was as one-sided an encounter as you are likely to see this season.
The ease in which Bobby Reid converted the first goal after 13 minutes offered a sense that Lee Johnson’s side were going to have the run of the place.
The only surprise was that it took another 22 minutes for the next one to arrive, with Reid knocking in his second of the day.
By the time Josh Brownhill made it 3-0 just before half-time with another fine finish, we could have all gone home.
Wednesday did improve slightly immediately after the restart, but the felling of Marlon Pack by Joey Pelupessy and the subsequent completion by Reid of his treble from the spot ended any fanciful notion that a miracle might occur.
No arguments about the penalty and certainly no arguments about the result.
“I can speak about our team but I saw today one of the best teams we have played in the time I am here,” said Owls boss Jos Luhukay, and he was probably right.
His team didn’t half make it easy for Bristol, though.
What’s happened to the defence?
When Luhukay took over, he made it his mission to shore up the Owls defence.
Given the fact he was missing so many key players, it was an entirely appropriate measure and it worked.
It wasn’t pretty but the change in formation to what was effectively a disciplined five-man defence stopped them losing for a while and the hope was that the attacking side of things would be eased as confidence built.
As it turns out, Wednesday still aren’t scoring enough and now the previously prudent backline is leaking goals.
Luhukay’s side - albeit against tough opposition in Aston Villa, Swansea and Bristol City - conceded 10 goals in the space of a week, with a fair amount of those very much avoidable.
Perhaps the fact that they aren’t doing well enough at the other end is putting more pressure on a defence that has in itself been somewhat thrown together at times. The lack of goals means every mistake at the back will likely prove costly.
Whatever it is, it needs to be sorted out quickly because they are fast running out of games to ensure safety.
Have they got the stomach?
The biggest concern is that Wednesday look limp.
It’s not that they don’t care, it’s just that many of the squad are of not of sufficient quality and, aligned to that, there’s little evidence to suggest that, as a unit, they have the backbone for a battle.
What’s going against them compared to other teams at the wrong end of the table is that for a lot of those sides, this is not a new experience.
Indeed, many have been down there most of the season, knowing they are having to fight for every point. Wednesday have been sucked into the mire relatively late and I’m not sure they really know how to scrap. They’d better learn very quickly.
Lees return a boost at least
Tom Lees’ coming off the bench at half-time to replace Daniel Pudil provided a lift to the defence.
The centre-back still looked a little rusty and he was as at fault as anyone for the fourth goal in the way they dallied in possession.
However, Lees’ experience will be vital in the coming weeks and, from a Wednesday perspective, hopefully he can help to provide some leadership to what often looks like a rudderless ship
Fans were the stars
It was freezing cold. They’ll have hit the icy roads first thing in the morning to get there, against the advice of every police force in the country, probably wondering if indeed the match would go ahead at all.
Yet there they were, just a few hundred short, due to the trains from Sheffield to Bristol being cancelled, but still in big numbers to cheer on a team that gave them little reason to.
Sheffield Wednesday’s fans showed the type of commitment that the players are going to have to show if they are to ensure next year’s away trips aren’t at Oldham and Walsall.