Sheffield Wednesday 1-2 Queens Park Rangers: Owls left to rue lacklustre performance as they secure top half finish
It’s been a season of two halves for Sheffield Wednesday but their final match of the campaign ended with a fizzle rather than a bang as they slid to a 2-1 defeat against QPR.
The Owls hosted managerless Rangers at Hillsborough buoyed by the Brucey effect, which has lifted a cloud of gloom hanging over S6 in recent weeks.
A flat Wednesday performance meant they didn’t end the year on a perfect high, but a 12th place finish in the Championship is a reasonable achievement in the bigger picture of the 2018/19 season.
Bruce named four changes from last weekend’s 3-3 draw against Preston North End as midfielder Kieran Lee was handed a first Owls start since December 2017, while Keiren Westwood, Morgan Fox and Lucas Joao all started.
Wednesday included five of their nine out of contract players in their matchday squad in what could prove to be a final farewell for those excluded from Bruce’s future plans.
Earlier this week the Owls chief revealed his mind is already made up on the nine, and collectively the first half performance suggested that the game was just a formality to bring the season to a close.
The returning Westwood made his presence felt from kick off as he organised the defence in front of him, and the ‘keeper was soon brought into the game after he was clattered to the ground by Matt Smith.
Wednesday then missed a glorious chance as Marco Matias rushed on to a long ball from the midfield and had the chance to pull the trigger from a tight angle but instead cut it back into no man’s land for QPR to clear.
The Hoops took the lead against the run of play as they broke on the counter attack and Josh Scowen raced through to place a low, driven shot past Westwood.
It hadn’t come without warning though, as moments before the visitors were nearly ahead in similar fashion although Morgan Fox was on hand to block the shot.
That knocked the wind out of Wednesday as they fell flat, unable to be revived for the rest of the game.
By far the hungrier team, QPR were first to the ball as the home side missed the presence of Barry Bannan to dictate the play and pick up second balls at the heart of the midfield.
The influential Scot was rested for this game on 14 yellow cards for the season, one away from a three game ban that would carry into the new campaign.
Wednesday looked like they had their beach towels at the ready as they returned after half time, with sloppy play allowing QPR a chance to race through on goal.
A Westwood save sparked some life into the Owls though, as Fernando Forestieri and Steven Fletcher’s link up play forced a foul on the former in the area and a shot at an equaliser.
Forestieri’s long-range screamer against Norwich will live long in the memory - his penalty miss against QPR less so, as he sent it blazing over the bar and into the Kop end.
Kieran Lee and Lucas Joao then made way for Sam Hutchinson and Atdhe Nuhiu with 64 minutes on the clock, before Gary Hooper replaced Steven Fletcher.
With ‘clumsy’ he best adjective for the overall Wednesday performance, things got worse when Tom Lees brought down Osayi-Samuel but Westwood’s spared his captain’s blushes with a superhero save to deny Eberechi Eze.
In an all to familiar sight this season Sam Hutchinson hobbled off after pulling up with injury and with all the substitutes already used, Wednesday were down to ten men.
As Steve Bruce admitted after the match, understanding Hutchinson’s limits with fitness and injury is one of the ongoing challenges in his job as he told the media:
“We don’t know when he is fit and neither does he. He trained yesterday and ran around like a blue arsed fly - we thought he was ok.
“Today he did the warm up, he did 15 minutes and did half of the little game and at 60 minutes I told him he was going to come on for Kieran but he’s done his hamstring which is unfortunately for him and ongoing problem with fitness.”
Mastering the art of Hutchinson’s match fitness is another task to add to the summer to-do list then.
In the end, the afternoon turned into a penalty bonanza as Marco Matias was hauled down in the area and fittingly it was Wednesday’s Mr Reliable, Michael Hector, who stepped up to bury the spot-kick.
Gary Hooper then came close with a flicked header at the near post but Wednesday were made to pay for switching off at the death as Matt Smith sent a thunderous volley past a furious Westwood.
They say no man is an island and it rang true for the Owls ‘keeper, who deserved better than to be left stranded by his team mates to watch the second goal go in.
And as the referee’s whistle brought the game to an end, it’s yet to be seen how many players have reached full time on their Owls career with a summer of transition to come.