Owls match verdict: Bournemouth 2 Sheffield Wednesday 2

Kieran Lee heads home. Picture: Steve Ellis
Kieran Lee heads home. Picture: Steve Ellis
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The Football League show cameras rocked up at the Goldsands Stadium expecting goals, talking points and to witness Bournemouth edge closer to the Premier League.

But, instead, they got potentially a big twist in the Championship promotion race following a thrilling, extraordinary contest that was a great advert for the division.

Owls scoers Chris Maguire and Kieran Lee

Owls scoers Chris Maguire and Kieran Lee

Bournemouth thought they had taken another giant step towards achieving top-flight football for the first time in their 125-year history when Matt Ritchie put them 2-1 ahead with 84 minutes on the clock, lashing in an unstoppable left-footed piledriver into the top corner.

But Wednesday dented the Cherries hopes of finishing in the top-two by grabbing an equaliser in added on time from the penalty spot, Chris Maguire coolly stroked home from 12 yards after Adam Smith brought down Atdhe Nuhiu.

Stuart Gray, the Owls head coach, said: “People think it’s easy taking a penalty but there was a lot of pressure on that one. You have got to have bottle to take a penalty and that’s why these people stand up and be counted. Chris showed great composure.”

A point was the least the Owls deserved for the part they played in a cracking tussle.

Chris Maguire after his penalty

Chris Maguire after his penalty

“Ritchie’s free-kick was a kick in the teeth,” said Gray. “It was an unbelievable strike. He will never hit a sweeter strike again.”

Maguire relished every moment of being the party pooper. As he went over to clap the 1,200 Wednesdayites who made the long trip, he taunted the Bournemouth faithful, putting a finger to his lip to silence them. His seventh goal also quietened down some of his own critics.

“There was only one thing in my mind as I stepped up to take the penalty and that was that I was going to score,” he said. “Thankfully for myself and the team it went in the back of the net and it’s a good point for us but we were unlucky not to take the three points.

“I practise them every day in training and there were no nerves. I knew what I had to do.”

In sweltering, hot conditions down on the south coast, you could have forgiven midtable Wednesday for putting their ‘flip-flops on’, especially after the team coach had got caught in a six-and-a-half-hour traffic jam on Friday, forcing them to practise at Southampton’s training ground late afternoon.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Gray made two enforced changes to his starting line-up before 14 minutes had even elapsed, with Chris Kirkland replacing Keiren Westwood in between the sticks while Sam Hutchinson limped off after suffering a hamstring strain. Westwood picked up a calf strain during the warm-up, handing Kirkland just his second league start of the season.

Maghoma took over from Hutchinson in midfield and centre-back Kamil Zayatte was taken off at half-time after sustaining a fractured cheekbone. The footballing gods did not appear to be shining on Gray or Wednesday.

Despite all those injury setbacks, the Owls defied the odds to ensure Gray celebrated his 55th birthday yesterday with a hard-earned and deserved point.

Wednesday looked down and out after Ritchie’s thunderbolt. Caolan Lavery some how failed to turn in Marnick Vermijl’s low centre in the dying minutes and it seem inevitable Gray would be left ruing more poor finishing.

But the beauty of Gray’s side is they never know when they are beaten. The Owls have enjoyed so many great away-days throughout the 2014/15 season, snatching dramatic late wins at Blackburn Rovers and Rotherham United, and their persistence paid off against the Cherries. The work ethic and team spirit Gray and his coaching staff have instilled and drilled into the team was there for all to see.

Those who claim Wednesday have got nothing but pride to play for are talking nonsense. Five of the players who started on Saturday are out of contract in the summer, including the scorers, Maguire and Kieran Lee. Their jobs are on the line. These guys are professionals and are playing for their futures.

Bournemouth entered the fixture on the back of a 10-match unbeaten run, but Wednesday made Eddie Howe’s side look very ordinary in the first half. It took a good save by Artur Boruc to deny Maghoma after he charged down Steve Cook’s clearance and Lee’s volley was cleared off the line by Tommy Elphick.

The Owls restricted the Cherries to few sights at goal and took the lead after a fine team goal. Lee sprayed the ball out wide to the flank and Lewis Buxton whipped in a deep, hanging cross and Lee ghosted in to send his diving header out of Boruc’s reach. It was a lovely move and well finished off by Lee.

“Kieran’s timing of the run was excellent,” said Gray. “It was a fantastic cross by Lewis Buxton.

“It has been a fantastic season for Kieran. He’s got six goals now. The most important thing is we have to keep a hold of our better players.”

Apart from Harry Arter’s rasping strike which Kirkland tipped over, Bournemouth struggled to unlock Wednesday’s makeshift backline.

Just before the hour mark, Maguire almost doubled Wednesday’s advantage, curling a free-kick against the post, with Lavery firing the rebound over. That proved to be a big turning point and Bournemouth, who six seasons ago embarked on a League Two campaign with minus 17 points, stepped things up, determined to avoid a first home defeat since January.

There was a controversial moment in the 65th minute when Callum Wilson raced clear after a misdirected header by Tom Lees. The Cherries’ top scorer raced clear, rounded Kirkland and looked set to tap into an unguarded net only to be bundled over in the penalty area by Buxton, filling in at centre-half, but referee Paul Tierney awarded a corner, sparking furious reactions from supporters behind the goal.

“I don’t even know what to say because I don’t want to get myself in trouble,” Howe said. “Let me say I disagree with the decision.

“That for me is the most clear-cut penalty I’ve seen this season involving my side. And a red card.”

Watching the incident live, I thought it looked a penalty, and TV replays also suggest the visitors rode their luck, although Gray was adamant Buxton got a touch on the ball when tackling Wilson.

One thing’s for sure, Bournemouth’s attacking quality came to the fore in the final quarter, with Yann Kermorgant’s deft header levelling things up before Ritchie’s spectacular free-kick.

Simon Francis saw red in between the Cherries two goals after picking up his second booking, only for Maguire to break their hearts. Promotion remains in Bournemouth’s hands, but they require maximum points from their final two outings to guarantee a top-two spot.

For Wednesday, the battle for ninth spot goes on as they look to end year of progress on a high note.

“I work with these lads every day and they care,” said Gray. “They enjoy coming to work and putting the hard yards in for themselves and for each other.

“The atmosphere in the dressing room is great and I know what I’m working with. I can never fault the character of my players. They are such an honest bunch and are willing to give everything for the cause. They put in an unbelievable shift.”

That they did, Stuart - and what a performance they produced in front of the cameras.

Bournemouth: Boruc 7; Francis 6, Elphick 7, Cook 6 (Jones 64**6), Daniels 6; Ritchie 7, Arter 8, Surman 7, Pugh 6 (Smith 57*, 6); Kermorgant 7 (Ward 81***), Wilson 8. Substitutes: Camp, Gosling, Pitman, Fraser.

Wednesday: Kirkland 7; Buxton 7, Lees 7, Zayatte 7 (Vermijl HT**, 6), Helan 7; Melo 7, Hutchinson 6 (Maghoma 15*, 7), Lee 8; Maguire 8, Isgrove 6 (Nuhiu 63***, 6) Lavery 7. Substitutes: May, McCabe, Bus, Dawson.

Manager’s view - Stuart Gray: “I’m proud of the players because they have come up against a team who are riding high and who score goals for fun but we have come away with a point, which is the least we deserved. When Chris Maguire hit the post with his free-kick, you think maybe it’s not going to be our day but we kept going. People were running on empty in the last 20 minutes but the players showed their character and willingness to dig deep.”

Manager’s view - Eddie Howe: “It was a heartbreaking end to the game for us. To concede the goal in the manner that we did is a tough one to take. Even though we have had the most successful season in the club’s history, we have had many moments when we have felt low and down, and we have to respond to adversity.”

Hero: Kieran Lee is arguably in the best form of his Owls career. Bagged his sixth goal of the season with a superb diving header and was unlucky not to add to his tally. Lee is an under-rated box-to-box midfielder and has proven in recent weeks he is worthy of a new contract.

Key moment: Had Maguire’s free kick gone in rather than hit the post just before the hour mark, Wednesday could have caused the upset of the weekend in the Championship. That would have doubled the Owls’ advantage and given Bournemouth a mountain to climb.

Viewpoint: Wednesday’s 17th draw and, on the balance of play, the final scoreline was a fair result. Gray has made the Owls a hard side to beat. Now the next step is for them to turn these draws into wins by being more ruthless in the final third.

Ref watch: Lancashire official Paul Tierney angered home fans by failing to award a penalty in the 65th minute after Callum Wilson went down under Lewis Buxton’s challenge. Was quite card-happy, sending Simon Francis off for two tackles on Lloyd Isgrove and Chris Maguire.

Attendance: 11,280.