Eerie Hillsborough hosts dramatic return of Sheffield Wednesday as Owls grab point against Nottingham Forest
It was odd. It was quiet. It was encouraging and frustrating. And in the end, Sheffield Wednesday nicked a point at the death.
It was 3-5-2, it was Wildsmith, it was Rhodes. It was nip-and-tuck. It was really, really quiet.
And as the Owls headed into the final stages of their restart curtain raiser against promotion-chasing Nottingham Forest, it seemed it was going to be a case of same, well, stuff, different month.
That was before Connor Wickham’s injury-time header nestled into the Forest net to steal a worthy point for the home side. On another day, it could have been more.
What those at Hillsborough saw was a display incomparable to the limp, fightless, lacklustre performances Wednesdayites had got used to before the break. They seemed free from the shackles of pressure, ready to strutt their stuff in the sunshine.
They set up differently not only in system but in mindset. Though they huffed and puffed for long periods without blowing anything to the ground, they looked quicker, strong, more confident.
For long periods they passed the ball with purpose, the extra man in midfield winning the battle in the middle, the legs of fit-again pairing Kieran Lee and Massimo Luongo allowing Barry Bannan the luxury of floating around the pitch in search of the perfect pass. Without being outstanding, the three dovetailed nicely.
Rhodes’ inclusion was perhaps a nod to the future given he remains the only striker guaranteed to be on the books in a fortnight’s time.
And those fears will only be exacerbated by the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it substitute appearance of Steven Fletcher, who looked to have a groin issue. Fernando Forestieri didn’t make the squad. Neither did Adthe Nuhiu.
They had joy down the oh-so-quiet wings; Kadeem Harris and Jacob Murphy supported by those around them as Wednesday attempted to overload.
But for all the encouragement, on 69 minutes Joe Lolley scored with the sort of clinical finish that was absent for Wednesday’s hour of dominance. The historic clash threatened to peter out as Forest looked increasingly comfortable. And as the headlines were prepped for filing, there was Wickham.
A good point that could have been three. Wednesday off and running.
An important message: