Good Friday no Moore: Talking points from Sheffield Wednesday's narrow defeat to Watford
Sheffield Wednesday saw another opportunity to pull back points on the safety places as they fell to their 20th league defeat of the season at promotion-chasing Watford.
The Owls remain six points back on the safety zone but have only eight matches to go. They laid on a spirited performance and ultimately lost out to a controversial first-half own goal by Tom Lees, while squandering a handful of handy chances themselves.
Let’s take a look at some of the talking points from a frustrating afternoon for the managerless Owls.
The news was confirmed shortly before kick-off that Wednesday manager Darren Moore would not be in the dugout having returned a positive Covid-19 test on Friday.
It was about as unwelcome news as you could fathom, the stabilising nature of 10 days on the training field with Moore and his coaching staff blown away as Jamie Smith took the main seat in the dugout for the first time in his career.
But at this stage of the season, with the position Wednesday are in, they can ill-afford excuses.
How long he’s not about for remains to be seen – they’ll hope it’s not too long at all and that his work can continue.
Initially ruled out by linesman Matthew Jones, Watford’s opener was ruled back on by Premier League referee Chris Kavanagh after a brief conversation, sparking scenes of anger from the Wednesday defence.
Tom Lees, who got away with an own goal thanks to Joe Wildsmith’s reactions just a minute or two earlier, was the man forced to bundle the ball in under pressure from Success behind him. It looked a lot like offside at the time and it looks offside on the replay. He’s surely interfering with play?
It may well be an example of a marginal call going against Wednesday. There have been one or two this season, important ones at that.
In general Kavanagh had a poor game and failed to grasp too much control over it. On one occasion he asked a Wednesday player three times to approach him for a ticking-off, three times the player refused and the referee ended up going to him. Never a good sign.
Out from the back
Despite everything, and in some ways this is probably clutching at straws, there are at least the rumblings of an identity to this Owls side. It’s something the club has been crying out for for a while now.
Darren Moore’s sides have a track record for playing confident football from the back and you could see Wednesday attempt to do that on what was an exquisite Vicarage Road pitch. The problem was that Watford, more experienced and better-drilled, did it better.
Every Wednesday goal kick or break in play in their own half prompted screams to squeeze the possession and defend higher up, which they did.
Do the Owls have the players to play that way consistently? Maybe they do, but to go from the way Tony Pulis had them playing to this in a couple of months is ultimately a bit of an ask.
Very much a work in progress. It could, one day, be quite exciting.
Central to everything Wednesday did well – and there were several examples of that especially in possession – was their captain Barry Bannan.
Playing further up the field with Sam Hutchinson and Joey Pelupessy marshalling in behind him, he was hugely adventurous on the ball and looked to be having ‘one of those Bannan games’, releasing Josh Windass twice in the first half and being a general nuisance for much of the game.
Up against Watford skipper Nathaniel Chalobah he could have been expected to be out-muscled once or twice but he was constant threat.
The issue was of course that he was up against a side that defended pretty well and try as he might – he did change boots three times – the real clear-cut chances were not all that forthcoming.
Praise too for Joe Wildsmith who made some excellent saves and kept Wednesday in the game.
The chances that did come were squandered. Jordan Rhodes in particular had one that you’d expect him to score nine times in 10, Bannan had a free-kick in an excellent position, there were chances for Windass and Borner.
The momentum of the game ebbed and flowed a fair bit, and Watford had spells in which they bossed it, but Wednesday once again created more and were more fluent in possession than we’ve seen more large portions of the season.
It just wouldn’t go in. And therein lies the issue and in many ways the reason behind their struggle. But where the issue all season has been that they’ve not created anything, the story at Vicarage Road was that they didn’t put them away. In some ways it was encouraging, in others all the more frustrating.
Where are we now then?
Eight to go. Play like that throughout and they’ll win a few points, you fancy. You just look at the table and wonder whether it’ll be anything like enough.
The battle goes on, though, and there is no time for wound-licking. Cardiff are next up on Monday.
Watford: Bachmann; Femenia, Troost-Ekong, Sierralta, Massina; Chalobah (Sanchez, 88), Hughes, Zinckernagel (Gosling, 61); Sarr, Success (Gray, 61), Joao Pedro (Sema, 71)
Subs unused: Foster, Ngakia, , Lazaar, Kabasele, Hungbo
Sheffield Wednesday: Wildsmith; Borner, Lees (Shaw, 85), Urhoghide; Reach, Hutchinson, Paterson (Green, 82); Bannan, Pelupessy (Palmer, 75); Windass, Rhodes
Subs unused: Jackson, Harris, Penney, Brown, Hunt, Kachunga