Sheffield Wednesday match report: Owls 2 Bristol City 0 – Steve Bruce’s changes pay off as Barry Bannan shines at Hillsborough
Steve Bruce's fast-improving Sheffield Wednesday team are running their own goal of the season competition.
A little over 48 hours after Fernando Forestieri's belter at Norwich City, Barry Bannan lit up Hillsborough with another stunner in their home victory over Bristol City.
Given Adam Reach, Lucas Joao and Steven Fletcher have also scored a few beauties this campaign, the competition is fierce.
Joao claimed the Owls' second against the Robins in the 39th minute on a glorious, sunny afternoon at S6.
Victory lifted Wednesday up to ninth in the Championship and secured their first league double over the Robins since the 1972/73 campaign. The result keeps alive the Owls' slim top-six hopes heading into the final two round of fixtures.
Derby County leapfrogged Middlesbrough into sixth position after their dramatic late win against Queens Park Rangers. Both the Rams and City have a game in hand over Wednesday.
"I could not have wished for anything more," said Bruce. "There was a lot of tired bodies and mistakes towards the end.
"But, overall, the changes paid off and gave us a bit of freshness."
Bruce's much-changed line-up made a bright start and could have taken a third minute lead. Gary Hooper, recalled to the attack after being rested against Norwich City on Good Friday, nodded over the bar from inside the six-yard box after Tom Lees headed Barry Bannan's corner back across the face of goal.
Wednesday showed plenty of energy and urgency in the early stages as they dominated possession and territory.
Hooper was busy, dropping deep to link the midfield and forward line. He fed strike partner Lucas Joao, whose right foot curler was turned away by Max O'Leary.
But City, winless on their last three league visits to S6, almost caught the Owls out on the counter attack. In-form forward Andreas Weimann broke clear down the right before steering a right foot shot wide when well-placed.
Wednesday looked fresher and hungrier than Lee Johnson's side and Bannan deservedly fired them ahead in spectacular fashion in the 17th minute. Hooper laid the ball off to the Scotland international, who unleashed a glorious left foot piledriver from 30 yards that gave O'Leary no chance. Yet another absolute worldie to add to the Owls' growing collection.
"It was a wonderful goal from Bannan," he said. "I thought Forestieri's was goal of the season but I will have to see Bazza's back."
Bannan ran the show in the centre, particularly in the first half.
Bruce said: “He’s a very, very good footballer isn’t he. You have seen it for the last three or four years.
“They must have some good players in Scotland if this fella can’t get in that team!
“I know there’s that debate but he’s a bloody good player that’s for sure.
“Going on, going forward you always want your good players so I am delighted that we have got him tied up.
"He’s been here a few years and made himself a crowd favourite and to be a crowd favourite at a big club like this you have got to have talent and to be fair to the kid he has got it in abundance."
Against the run of play, Dasilva nearly equalised just before the half hour mark. The left-wing back played a great one-two with Famara Diedhiou, who had earlier been cautioned for a poor tackle on Dominic Iorfa, but the Chelsea loanee fluffed his lines from close range. It was a big let off for Wednesday.
Dasilva's miss proved costly for play-off chasing City when Joao doubled Wednesday's advantage. The Portugal international latched on to Bannan's exquisite ball over the top before deftly chipping the ball over the advancing O'Leary. Dasilva tried in vain to clear Joao's lob away from near the goal line but only succeeded in turning it into the net.
Bruce said: "I don't think you are going to get a pair of goals as good as that across any league.
"The pass from Bannan and the control and finish from Joao was right up there. I'm obviously very pleased as I thought we looked a very decent team in the first half."
Wednesday were threatening to run riot and O'Leary had to be alert to keep out Dominic Iorfa's fierce strike from an acute angle after more good play by Hooper.
Dasilva came within a whisker of atoning for his earlier miss on the stroke of half-time. His cross towards the back post crashed against Cameron Dawson's left hand upright and flashed across the face of goal only for the Owls to clear away the loose ball.
After a disappointing, disjointed opening 45 minutes, the Robins upped their game after the restart and pushed Wednesday back. Weimann, who bagged a hat-trick in their come-from-behind win over Sheffield United last month, fired wide after a good run.
City went for jugular, throwing on Kasey Palmer and Antoine Semenyo to freshen up their attacking options.
And the Owls were indebted to Dawson, standing in for the injured Keiren Westwood for the second match running, for keeping a clean sheet. He produced two outstanding saves in quick succession to deny Diedhiou and Josh Brownhill to leave the Robins frustrated.
"I was delighted for Cameron," said Bruce. "His back-to-back saves were the highlight of the afternoon for me."
Owls: Dawson; Iorfa, Lees, Hector, Lazaar; Reach, Pelupessy, Bannan, Boyd (Forestieri 74); Hooper (Onomah 59), Joao (Matias 88). Owls substitutes: Wildsmith, Fox, Winnall, Nuhiu.
Bristol City: O'Leary; Kalas, Webster, Wright (Palmer 55); Hunt, Brownhill, Pack (Walsh 83), Dasilva; Eliasson (Semenyo 64), Weimann, Diehiou. Substitutes: Marinovic, Baker, Taylor, Kelly.
Referee: Rob Jones (Merseyside)
Star man: Barry Bannan