Sheffield Wednesday ended their five-day pre-season training camp in Slovenia on a low note, losing 2-1 to Russian outfit FC Arsenal Tula in a bad-tempered friendly.
Michail Antonio gave Wednesday a third-minute lead but Tula, who have won three consecutive promotions, hit back through Alexey Bazanov at The Pjut City Stadium in Maribor last night.
Striker Atdhe Nuhiu struck the crossbar on the stroke of half time as the warm-up match appeared to be heading for a statlemate.
However, with five minutes to go, substitute Vladislav Tyzhkov thumped home an unstoppable shot from 10 yards to condemn Wednesday to their first pre-season loss.
Owls boss Stuart Gray said: “We started ever so brightly, scored a good goal but the game was a bit disjointed in the second half.
“It was a good, physical test against a European team who can keep the ball well.
“They are a week ahead of us with their pre-season so they have an edge in terms of fitness. Overall, it was a good workout for us and a very rewarding training camp.”
The friendly contest was not without a fractious element as tackles flew in from the first whistle and the referee was forced into action, booking Joe Mattock for a late challenge.
Further yellow cards followed for Wednesday in the first half as Chris Maguire and Slovenian trialist Dejan Kelhar were also cautioned for mistimed tackles. Centre back Kelhar’s trial spell has been extended and he is likely to feature in Sunday’s friendly at Doncaster Rovers.
Gray, who was forced to take off Sam Hutchinson at half-time because of a “naughty tackle” on the side of his knee, said: “It became a bit heated. There was no flow to the game. It was very stop start. The referee could have handled some situations better.”
But any bad blood faded in the Slovenia sun after the break as the main action unfolded in the early throes.
Maguire saw a curling free kick athletically saved by Alexander Filimonov on two minutes before Antonio slammed in the opener a minute later.
The forward picked up possession on the left channel and moved inside before unleashing a low drive that whistled into the bottom corner.
But the Owls’ joy was short-lived as the Russians hit back on eight minutes.
A long punt forward from the left ended with a suspiciously offside looking Bazanov dinking a clever effort over the advancing Keiren Westwood.
“Their player was blatantly three to four yards off-side,” said Gray. “It was a poor decision that went against us. I’m not using that as an excuse. It is just frustrating.”
Just as the half time whistle was about to sound, the Owls almost regained the lead.
A number of Wednesday players sprung the offside trap from a Mattock free kick but Nuhiu struck the bar from six yards from an Antonio feed.
Controversy came 10 minutes into the second half when Alexander Kutin went down in the area under a Giles Coke challenge only to see yellow for simulation.
A raft of substitutions followed from both teams and the remainder of the second half took the shape of the first.
But just as a stalemate beckoned, Tula broke on the counter and Ryzhrov found space on the left side of the penalty area to lash beyond Joe Wildsmith and seal victory.
Owls: Westwood (Wildsmith 76), Palmer, Mattock (Helan 70), Hutchinson (McCabe 46), Kelhar, Loovens (Zayatte 63), Maguire, Coke (Corry 82), Nuhiu (Maghoma 70), Madine, Antonio.
FC Arsenal Tula: Filimonov (Klikin 46), Lozenkov, Kutin, Lepskii (Makarenko 65), Smirnov, Sukharev (Ershov 80), Maslov (Kaleshin 80), Ignatyev (Ryzhrov 65), Kuznetcov, Bazanov, Vasilev.
*The Star is making a donation to Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice as part of an agreement with Sheffield Wednesday over some of our coverage of their pre-season trip to Slovenia.