WEDNESDAY fans endured a nailbiting finale before their team clinched a deserved victory over Tranmere and surged back into the top two.
Early goals by Reda Johnson and Chris Lines plus sparkling football and six other chances gave the Owls possibly their most dominant first half since Gary Megson took over. But Tranmere fought back to edge the second half and score through sub Ian Goodison, force two saves from Nicky Weaver and make Wednesday suffer intense pressure in the closing stages for the third time in the last four games. But the Owls held firm to make it six points from their last two matches.
The first goal came after one minute 27 seconds, at the Kop end. Miguel Llera showed sublime control in his own half and played a long ball up to Clinton Morrison; he laid it off to Chris O’Grady, who was barged in the back 22 yards out, just to the left of goal.
Ben Marshall’s free kick hit the wall; the ball came out to Lines and his cross from the left was headed firmly home from close range by Reda Johnson - his fifth of the season. The second goal came from classy build-up; Lines, who was at the heart of it, also followed up to take a low cross by James Tavernier from the right and place a low shot past Paul Rachubka. Morrison, who was making his first start since September, made the next chance, eluding a marker and hitting a fine right-wing cross to the far corner of the six-yard box from where Marshall volleyed into the side-netting.
Wednesday really should have gone 3-0 up after 23 minutes when they had a double opportunity. A defensive mistake left Rachubka out of position near the edge of his area and Morrison in possession. The striker’s lob was not high enough and was blocked by the keeper. The ball ran to O’Grady, and with Rachubka still out of position and defenders desperately trying to cover, the Owls No 9 shot wide.
Tranmere had further escapes: Rachubka blocked from a Morrison drive after O’Grady and Tavernier opened up the defence, and Marshall, after being supplied by Morrison, lofted an effort over the bar when he could have passed.
In first-half stoppage time, a one-two with Morrison gave O’Grady a clear opening but he side-footed tamely at the keeper.
Tranmere showed more drive at the start of the second half but needed a save by Rachubka from a Marshall rocket after great build-up by the Owls and were rescued by a linesman’s flag when Johnson nodded home in the 55th minute after a corner by Marshall and a header by Llera.
But it was Nicky Weaver’s turn to excel in the 70th minute: striker Lucas Akins’ volley was a bolt from the blue and the keeper sprang to his left to beat it away.
A half-chance for deputy captain Jose Semedo was hit from a narrow angle and went wide via a deflection after he seized upon a poor back-pass.
Tranmere forced a goalmouth clearance by Llera, and a fortunate free kick from which centre back Ash Taylor powered a far-post header wide.
Rovers also sent on Ian Goodison as an extra presence up front and he glanced home a header in style from a right-wing cross by Danny Holmes in the 82nd minute.
An equaliser almost followed in the 88th minute: a corner was cleared to the edge of the box, sub John Welsh volleyed powerfully and Weaver again beat the ball away.
The added-time board showed three minutes, and Tranmere, at a corner, threw everybody forward, including keeper Rachubka.
But the Owls held tightly to their grip on their New Year points.
OWLS: Weaver 8, Otsemobor 7, Batth 7, Llera 8, R Johnson 7, Tavernier 7 (J Johnson 85), Lines 8, Semedo 7, Marshall 7 (Prutton 90+1), Morrison 7 (Watt 7, 70), O’Grady 7. Unused subs: Bywater, Lowe.
TRANMERE: Rachubka 8, Holmes 7, Taylor 7, McChrystal 7, Buchanan 6, Labadie 6, Weir 6, Baxter 7, Bakayogo 6 (Goodison 7, 77), Tiryaki 5 (Welsh ht), Akins. Unused subs: Coughlin, McGurk, Raven.
Ref: Rob Lewis (Shrews). Goals: Johnson, 2; Lines, 7; Goodison, 82. Attendance: 24,254.
Bookings: Johnson, 55; Semedo 87.