Sheffield Wednesday produced a battling, hard fought performance but could not overcome the might of Premier League giants Chelsea in the FA Cup.
Two goals from Willian and a strike from Callum Hudson-Odoi saw the holders earn a comfortable and expected triumph at Stamford Bridge.
Here are some of the main talking points from the cup tie.
It was always going to be a tough task against one of the country’s very best but Wednesday did everything they could to keep themselves in the game. To a man, they ran their socks off from start to finish, chasing down the ball, pressing, harrying and unsettling. There was no accepting of any fate, no damage limitation, only incredible workrate and endeavour. There is no shame in it ultimately being undone, courtesy of a mis-timed challenge, a stunning ball forward and a piece of brilliance.
Anyone watching Wednesday for the first time this season on Sunday evening would not have believed any correct claims they had been defensively frail this season. At Stamford Bridge, as they did in the Sheffield derby, they demonstrated how switched on, composed and organised they are capable of being. It is baffling how much they have been so easily torn apart this term when witnessing such a colossal defensive showing. Only with Gonzalo Higuain’s first half chance when he sprung onto an excellent through ball did Wednesday ever see themselves carved open. For all their total dominance of possession, it took a mistake and moments of real quality for Chelsea to find the breakthrough. No panic, no desperation – and all this came without the calming influence of Michael Hector who was unable to play due to being on loan from Chelsea.
If there was one criticism to be had of Wednesday’s performance – and it is probably somewhat harsh to point it out – it was the total lack of options in advanced areas they had whenever they did win possession. Steven Fletcher was largely isolated in the moments when he did manage to push up onto the Chelsea defence. But those moments were fleeting as the striker was also forced deep into his own half for a defensive effort. Keeping the FA Cup holders out was always going to be the priority, but there was little chance of the Owls counterattacking or getting forward in the required numbers with no one to hit with a ball out of the back. And there was a need for pace and power, which made it slightly disappointing that Lucas Joao was not introduced earlier.
The use of the video referee is hard to argue with when it delivers two decisions which are undoubtedly correct. But that this game was one of only six out of the 16 ties to use the technology is hard to fathom. How can it possibly be fair for games in the same competition be officiated in completely different manners? How would it be any different for one game to be played with only one official running the line? There were certainly decisions in other ties on Saturday which could have benefited from use of VAR – ones with much clearer errors of judgement than the penalty initially awarded when Ethan Ampadu tackled Joey Pelupessy.
A HAPPY MAN
It is not hard to imagine that, looking on, Steve Bruce will have been a satisfied manager-elect of Sheffield Wednesday. The squad of players that he will take charge of looks stronger in mind, body and spirit than they did when he first agreed to take the job. He will be pleased at the sight of real character, the moments of quality shown against a phenomenal opposition, and of the fitness and resolve demonstrated on Sunday evening. His task, as he takes the reins at the end of the week, is to bring out the quality over the next few months to ensure a happy end to a frustrating, concerning season for the club.
It’s almost become cliche to praise Wednesdayites for travelling in great number and in great voice. But respect is deserved for keeping the noise levels high throughout as almost 6,000 of them packed in behind the goal. Conceding any of the three goals did not dampen their spirits, nor did Chelsea’s domination of possession. And all this came at a ridiculously unfriendly kick-off time on a Sunday, 170 miles from home in the capital. Yet again, the unwavering supporters are a credit to the club. Chris Waddle tweeted on the night ‘Sheff Wed fans are unbelievable.’ He might be biased but he won’t have been the only one with that thought watching on.