Birmingham City 1 Sheffield Wednesday 0 - Pressure piles on Carvalhal as Owls lose to lowly Blues

Owls Carlos Carvalhal..........Pic Steve Ellis
Owls Carlos Carvalhal..........Pic Steve Ellis
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The pressure is mounting on Owls head coach Carlos Carvalhal after a second successive Championship defeat.

After the Steel City derby debacle, Carvalhal expected a strong reaction from his players at Birmingham City.

Owls Gary Hooper goes past Citys Craig Gardner.....Pic Steve Ellis

Owls Gary Hooper goes past Citys Craig Gardner.....Pic Steve Ellis

And Wednesday produced a much-improved performance, but it still wasn’t good enough to get a positive result against a struggling Blues side.

Fans vented their frustration at the final whistle, booing the team off.

For whatever reason, Carvalhal’s side are under-performing and are already five points adrift of the play-off positions. It is early days but that gap can’t be allowed to get any bigger.

Carvalhal made one enforced change in goal, with Keiren Westwood sidelined by a rib injury. The Star understands the Republic of Ireland international, who has made several uncharacteristic mistakes in recent weeks, suffered the knock at Cardiff City and played through the pain barrier on Sunday.

Owls dam Reach with Citys Craig Gardner.....Pic Steve Ellis

Owls dam Reach with Citys Craig Gardner.....Pic Steve Ellis

Having fractured his rib, there is a strong possibility Westwood will also miss the Yorkshire derby with Leeds United on Sunday.

Westwood’s absence handed academy graduate Joe Wildsmith a rare league start.

Unsurprisingly after Sunday’s humbling, Carvalhal made two outfield changes. He recalled Morgan Fox at left-back and handed Jacob Butterfield his first start since joining the Owls on loan from Derby County.

The heavy rain made passing football tricky for both teams. Conditions were difficult but Birmingham created the first opportunity of note. Jeremie Boga played a neat one two with Cheikh Ndoye but fired over from 25 yards out.

Owls Jacob Butterfield holds up Citys Ndoye....Pic Steve Ellis

Owls Jacob Butterfield holds up Citys Ndoye....Pic Steve Ellis

Harlee Dean, who was heavily linked with a move to Wednesday last summer, had to be alert to clear Steven Fletcher’s intelligent header back across the face of goal as Wednesday gradually found their poise and rhythm.

After more patient build-up play, Fletcher tried his luck from long range but former Owls defender Michael Morrison superbly charged down the effort.

The Blues, searching for their first win at the eighth attempt, registered the first shot on target in the 19th minute. Wildsmith was equal to David Davis’ strike.

Moments later, Adam Reach should have put Wednesday ahead. Reach, switched from left-back to left wing, ghosted in unmarked to the penalty area to meet Jack Hunt’s lovely cross but he headed straight at Tomasz Kuszczak.

Owls dam Reach with Citys Craig Gardner.....Pic Steve Ellis

Owls dam Reach with Citys Craig Gardner.....Pic Steve Ellis

The Owls enjoyed the bulk of possession but their attacks kept breaking down in the final third. They rarely looked capable of unlocking a stubborn, well-organised Blues side.

But it was easy to see where Birmingham’s problems lie. The Blues, with Lee Carsley in caretaker charge following Harry Redknapp’s sacking, lack confidence and quality in front of goal. They are in second lowest scorers in the division.

Wildsmith produced a brilliant reflex stop to foil Maxime Collin after good build-up play but Collin had strayed offside.

Wednesday survived a big scare just before the half hour mark when Steven Fletcher made a hash of a clearance. The ball fell invitingly to Boga, who blazed over from close range.

Butterfield was a calm, impressive figure in the centre and made the Owls tick.

There was no urgency or conviction in Birmingham’s play and were indebted to Kuszczak for diving to his right and pulling off a good save to keep out Reach’s left foot piledriver after the restart.

For all the Owls’ dominance, Carvalhal’s side didn’t force Kuszczak into too many saves.

And the visitors ought to have been punished on the counter attack. Ndoye spurned a glorious chance to break the deadlock in the 54th minute. He raced on to Boga’s clever pass but drilled over with the goal at his mercy.

Wednesday’s travelling fans were briefly celebrating when Gary Hooper tapped home inside the six-yard box but the assistant referee raised his flag for offside.

After Vassell’s strike, Carvalhal threw on Lucas Joao to inject some pace into their forward line and the Portuguese international saw his header from Barry Bannan’s deep cross turned away by Kuszczak.

The Owls laid seige to the Birmingham goal late on, with Reach shooting wide before Kieran Lee then fluffed his lines.

A big section of the Wednesday fan-base are starting to turn on Carvalhal. Things have to improve very quickly or chairman Dejphon Chansiri will have a difficult decision to make.

Birmingham: Kuszczak; Nsue, Morrison, Dean, Colin; Ndoye, Gardner (Roberts 89), Davis; Maghoma, Jutkiewicz (Vassell 61), Boga (Gallagher 83). Substitutes: Trueman, Grounds, Cotterill, Gleeson.

Owls: Wildsmith; Hunt, Lees, van Aken, Fox (Joao 78); Lee, Bannan, Butterfield, Reach; Fletcher (Rhodes 62), Hooper. Substitutes: Dawson, Palmer, Pudil, Wallace, Jones.

Attendance: 20,365 (2,444)

Referee: Stephen Martin

Star man: Jacob Butterfield