Sheffield Wednesday 1 Aston Villa 3 – The Owls’ play-off hopes suffer hammer blow after defeat to Steve Bruce’s former club
Moments after Tammy Abraham wrapped up a fortuitous Aston Villa victory, their supporters taunted former boss Steve Bruce with chants of 'Brucey, Brucey, what's the score?'
It encapsulated a desperately disappointing afternoon for Bruce in his first meeting with the Midlands club since they sacked him last October.
Two goals in added on time from substitute Albert Adomah and Abraham inflicted the maiden defeat of Bruce's Wednesday reign. It also sentenced the Owls to their first loss on home soil in more than four months.
It was a cruel way for Bruce and Wednesday to lose their unbeaten run.
The Owls laid siege to Villa's goal in a one-sided second half, outplaying the in-form team in the division for long periods. Villa struggled to get out of their own half.
Not only did Wednesday go toe-to-toe with a top side, they should have been out of sight after creating a number of good chances in an enthralling contest. Steven Fletcher's missed penalty proved very costly.
Dean Smith, the Villa boss, said: “Credit to Sheffield Wednesday. They put us on the back foot, put balls in the box and up to (Steven) Fletcher.
“Jed (Steer) has had to make a really good save from the penalty which gave us a bit of a boost.
“Had that gone in it would have been tough to come back with Wednesday having their tails up.
“We were certainly under a lot of pressure.
“(Barry) Bannan has curled one wide, (Adam) Reach has curled one wide and there were a number of balls played into our box."
The minimum result the Owls deserved was a draw.
But sometimes in football you don't get your just rewards and Villa nicked it at the death to secure a sixth consecutive league win. The final scoreline hugely flattered the visitors and dealt a hammer blow to Wednesday's top-six prospects.
A GOOD START
Things had started so promisingly for the Owls when Gary Hooper gave them a seventh minute lead. George Boyd raced on to Michael Hector's raking long pass and squared the ball for Hooper to tap home his first goal since December 2017.
Their joy was short-lived when John McGinn levelled things up. He expertly side-footed a first time shot past Keiren Westwood after Andre Green brilliantly hooked the ball back into the danger zone.
Barry Bannan was imperious in the centre and came agonisingly close to netting against his former club with a shot which curled inches wide of the post.
Wednesday played on the front foot and pushed Villa back towards their own 18-yard line after the break.
Fletcher, given the nod up front over Fernando Forestieri after recovering from a groin problem, spurned a golden chance to put Wednesday in front in the 55th minute after Tyrone Mings clumsily brought him down.
The centre-forward's spot-kick lacked power and accuracy as Steer parried his left foot drive before Villa hacked the loose ball to safety.
Bruce believes Fletcher's miss was the turning point.
He said: "You need a bit of luck this time of year - it’s not really about your performance it’s can you get a result and the bounce of the ball? When you miss penalties in big games you know it’s not your day.
"Big moments in big games, you need to take them chances and unfortunately we haven't been able to take it."
Had Fletcher converted from 12 yards, it could have been a different story.
Losing man-of-the-match Bannan to a hamstring injury also hindered their progress, according to Bruce.
However, if you don't take your chances against good opposition, you will get punished.
And Villa made the Owls pay with their late smash and grab.
Substitute Jonathan Kodjia saw his shot saved by Westwood, who pushed the ball straight to Adomah and he turned it in from a tight angle.
Abraham then compounded Wednesday’s misery by adding a third. He shrugged off the attentions of Liam Palmer before firing a low shot past Westwood.
"We're all going home disappointed,” said Bruce. “Sometimes in football you don't get what you deserve and that was the case today.
"The way we played, the way we went about it I couldn't have asked for anything more. They played fantastically well, we've missed a big opportunity, we missed that penalty, but it's not our day.
“With the spice of it being against Villa, it’s disappointing.”
A STEP TOO FAR
It looks an increasingly tough task for the Owls to sneak into the play-offs. Now they trail sixth-placed Bristol City by six points with six matches left to play after only their second league defeat since Christmas.
“We won’t give up just yet,” insisted Bruce.
It was no surprise plenty of Wednesdayites stayed behind to clap off the team on Saturday. The players earned their standing ovation and Bruce deserves immense credit for putting the pride back in the shirt.