Match report: MK Dons 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1

Keiren Westwood shows his fury as the Owls concede a second to MK Dons
Keiren Westwood shows his fury as the Owls concede a second to MK Dons
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Play-off contenders? Not on this evidence.

A big improvement is required in the second half of the season if Sheffield Wednesday are to gatecrash the top-six.

Carlos Carvalhal questions referee Darren Deadman

Carlos Carvalhal questions referee Darren Deadman

They looked anything but promotion material at relegation haunted MK Dons, delivering arguably their worst performance of the campaign.

Strikes either side of half-time from Carl Baker and Nicky Maynard sentenced the Owls to their fourth away defeat, although Gary Hooper’s 77th minute strike lifted them out of their slumber.

Wednesday piled on the pressure in the closing stages but their sluggish starts to matches continues to cost them dearly. It took them far too long to get going and they have now triumphed just once in their last eight outings.

The Dons, lying in the relegation zone before kick-off, have found the jump from League One to the Championship a difficult step up yet they were the superior, hungrier looking team throughout.

Gary Hooper fires a goal back for Wednesday

Gary Hooper fires a goal back for Wednesday

It is understood Owls chairman Dejphon Chansiri will be back in the UK later this week. He has already invested heavily in the squad, splashing around £9m on bringing in foreign talent such as Fernando Forestieri, Lucas Joao and Marco Matias.

However, the Thai businessman may need to get his chequebook out again next month to reignite their challenge.

To combat the busy Christmas period, Carvalhal rotated his squad, making four alterations to his starting line-up. Sam Hutchinson was ruled out through a hip injury, handing Alex Lopez another chance to impress in the centre. Modou Sougou was also preferred to Ross Wallace in the wide position.

Carvalhal welcomed Jack Hunt back into the fold following a calf problem, choosing the Crystal Palace loanee over Liam Palmer at right-back. Atdhe Nuhiu returned up front, meaning Portugal international Lucas Joao dropped to the substitutes bench.

Atdhe Nuhiu attempts to get a shot away

Atdhe Nuhiu attempts to get a shot away

It was scrappy early on as both sides struggled to settle, culminating in plenty of heavy touches and wayward passes.

There was a moment of concern for Wednesday’s backline in the 10th minute when Josh Murphy raced on to a great through ball by Owls old boy Darren Potter but the forward’s centre was expertly cleared away by Glenn Loovens.

Any neutrals in the stadium would have thought the Dons were battling it out for a play-off spot rather than the Owls as Karl Robinson’s side stroked the ball around with confidence and authority.

After another slick passing move, Samir Carruthers fired over from distance, with the visitors continuing to cough up possession at regular intervals.

Kieran Lee tussles with MK Dons' Dean Lewington

Kieran Lee tussles with MK Dons' Dean Lewington

The Dons had a strong penalty appeal waved away after Michael Turner appeared to shove Nicky Maynard over but referee Darren Deadman wasn’t interested and waved play on.

For the sixth time in their last seven matches, Wednesday conceded the opening goal, with Maynard feeding Baker, who cleverly jinked his way past Daniel Pudil and Loovens before firing home.

The Owls looked lethargic and out of sorts. As an attacking unit, they offered very little and seemed vulnerable at the other end to the speed and movement of Maynard, Murphy and Rob Hall.

Things could have got even worse after the half hour mark had Maynard kept his composure in front of goal but the striker drilled wide after a superb run and delivery by Hall.

The visitors, missing Hutchinson’s steel and drive, lacked quality in the final third. They were outplayed in all departments as Robinson’s troops dominated possession. Forestieri and Lopez summed up their frustration by collecting bookings for rash challenges.

Just before Lopez was taken off with an injury, the Owls had a penalty claim rejected when Jack Hunt’s cross hit Dons captain Dean Lewington’s arm. While it would have been harsh to have penalised Lewington, it definitely fell into the category of ‘I’ve seen them given’.

Nearly 2,000 Owls fans travelled to Buckinghamshire and they greeted the half-time whistle with some boos.

Wednesday had under-performed and Carvalhal threw on super-sub Joao to stretch the Dons’ back four with his pace and power.

But Maynard doubled the hosts lead five minutes after the re-start to claim his fifth goal in his last five appearances versus the Owls. He beat the off-side trap, racing on to Carruthers pass before sliding home.

Despite their changes, Wednesday looked disjointed and disorganised defensively, with Maynard sending a 25-yard drive over.

Carvalhal remonstrated vehemently with the match officials after a decision went against his side in the 60th minute and he was given a stern ticking off by Deadman.

The Owls briefly threatened when Forestieri latched on to a neat header by Joao but Martin dived well to gather his teasing delivery.

Moments later, Maynard’s rasping effort called Westwood into action, forcing him into a fine save, with the Republic of Ireland international collecting the loose ball.

To their credit, Wednesday kept on plugging away and Forestieri was denied by an outstanding stop from Martin.

With 13 minutes remaining, Hooper handed Carvalhal’s charges a lifeline, smashing in his first goal since arriving on loan from Norwich City after a lovely pull back by Wallace.

All the momentum was with the Owls and they poured forward in their numbers in search of an equaliser. The Dons retreated deep to their 18-yard line and Wallace tried his luck from distance only to shoot over.

Ultimately, Wednesday could not find a moment of magic to break the Dons down as they lost more ground in the promotion race.

MK Dons: Martin; Spence McFadzean, Kay, Lewington; Potter, Carruthers (Poyet 85); Baker, Hall (Reeves 70), Murphy (Powell 78); Maynard. Substitutes: Cropper, Hodson, Bowditch, Gallagher.

Owls: Westwood; Hunt, Loovens, Turner, Pudil; Sougou (Hooper 56), Lopez (Wallace 44) Lee, Bannan; Forestieri, Nuhiu (Joao HT). Substitutes: Wildsmith, Semedo, McGugan, Helan.

Attendance: 11,422

Referee: Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire)