Sheffield Wednesday 2 Espanyol 2 - Lee Bullen's men end pre-season programme on a positive note with entertaining Hillsborough draw

Four wins out of six. Seventeen goals scored. Six conceded.

Sunday, 28th July 2019, 1:51 pm
Updated Sunday, 28th July 2019, 8:30 pm
Fernando Forestieri converted a second half penalty in the draw with Espanyol

Although the Owls have yet to appoint a successor to Steve Bruce, who left his role as manager at Hillsborough earlier this month, their team still looks in pretty good shape ahead of the big kick-off.

Lee Bullen has taken over as caretaker boss and steadied the ship, leading them to two victories from his four fixtures in charge.

Indeed, Wednesday concluded their pre-season programme with an entertaining home draw against Espanyol.

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And despite being pegged back on two occasions by the Spanish top-flight side, there were plenty of positives they could take from an entertaining encounter.

New arrivals Julian Börner and Moses Odubajo acquitted themselves well at the back, Kieran Lee was busy in midfield, Barry Bannan's cross for the opener underlined his undoubted quality on the ball and Steven Fletcher bagged his fourth goal of a productive pre-season.

Kadeem Harris was a real livewire after being introduced after the restart and Jordan Rhodes also put himself about in the final audition before their Championship curtain-raiser with Reading on Saturday.

Bullen, embarking on his third spell in temporary charge of the Owls, said: "I thought every player that took part was fantastic.

"We have been drilling them all pre-season on how we want to try and play the game and I thought they did it to a tee there.”

Eyebrows were raised over the system the Owls lined up in against the La Liga outfit. With less than a week to go until the big kick off, Wednesday set up in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Sam Hutchinson was stationed in front of the back four and tasked with the job of providing an extra layer of protection to the defence. Adam Reach was utilised on the right wing, with Lucas Joao on the opposite flank while Lee, fresh from signing a new one-year contract, was deployed in an advanced midfield role.

Espanyol, who travelled to England on Sunday morning, looked off the pace in the early stages as Wednesday bossed proceedings. Reach blazed over when well-placed after good work down the left by Liam Palmer before Joao dragged wide.

Lee looked a man with a point to prove and he was given a big round of applause in the ninth minute after superbly regaining possession near the centre circle.

At a damp, miserable S6, Wednesday adapted far quicker to the conditions. They knocked the ball around on the wet, greasy Hillsborough playing surface with far more confidence and conviction than their illustrious opponents.

Lee was proving a real driving force for the Owls and he forced Espanyol shot-stopper Andrés Prieto into a smart save after a good attacking move by the hosts. It was another little illustration of how much the Owls have missed his energy, drive and tenacity in the middle of the park over the past 18 months.

Moments after Reach was expertly denied in a one-on-one situation by the agility of Prieto, Fletcher deservedly headed the Owls in front after a peach of a delivery from the left by Barry Bannan.

After a shaky start, the visitors grew into the contest and Börner produced an immaculate interception to prevent China international Wu Lei from having a sight at goal.

But Espanyol restored parity just before the half hour mark as Javier Diaz curled a glorious right foot shot into the top corner.

It sparked Espanyol, who finished seventh in La Liga last term, into life. Their pressing game improved and Wednesday lost their early momentum.

Bullen made a double change at the interval, giving some valuable game time to Dominic Iorfa and Kadeem Harris.

Wing ace Harris, snapped up on a free transfer from Cardiff City this summer, is an exciting, direct player and looked keen to impress from the off. His surging run to the byline and pull back presented Reach with half an opening but his strike was deflected behind by Bernardo Espinosa.

Fletcher nearly grabbed of his second of the afternoon from the resulting corner but his fierce volley drifted agonisingly off target.

Wednesday made a host of changes in the second period which could have disrupted their rhythm.

But to their immense credit, Bullen's side carried the greater attacking threat.

Harris tried his luck from long range only to be thwarted by the reflexes of Prieto before Jordan Rhodes, on for Fletcher, saw his downward header from Odubajo's superb cross brilliantly kept out by Prieto.

The home team's pressure paid off in the closing stages when they regained the lead from the spot after Rhodes had been dragged back in the area by Zuniga. Fernando Forestieri coolly fired home from 12 yards, sending Prieto the wrong way.

But Wu Lei had the final word as he lashed an unstoppable right foot shot beyond Keiren Westwood with four minutes to go.

"With a little bit of luck, we could have scored five or six goals,” said Bullen. "But it was also a good little lesson with that drop of concentration in the last few minutes and you can get sucker-punched."

Owls: Westwood; Odubajo, Lee (van Aken 80), Borner (Iorfa HT), Palmer (Fox 73); Hutchinson (Forestieri 62); Reach (Pelupessy 62), Lee (Nuhiu 73), Bannan (Winnall 62), Joao (Harris HT); Fletcher (Rhodes 55). Substitutes: Dawson.Espanyol: Albert, Gordon, Derteano (Marmol 72), Diaz (Vizuete 66), Rossello, Zuniga, Junque, Martin (Bonilla 66), Lei, Fernandez, Ribaudo. Substitutes: Mata, Moreno, Molina, Garrote, Bonilla. Referee: Steve Martin (Staffordshire)