Owls work hard but Cottagers have the quality - Sheffield Wednesday 0 Fulham 1

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Their attitude and application on the day was spot on.

But despite a dogged, hard-working performance, Wednesday lacked the quality and self-belief in the final third to seriously trouble a strong Fulham outfit.

Owls skipper Tom Lees beats Fulham's Alexsander Mitrovic....Pic Steve Ellis

Owls skipper Tom Lees beats Fulham's Alexsander Mitrovic....Pic Steve Ellis

And with 12 minutes left of Saturday’s tussle, Aleksandar Mitrovic popped up to claim his ninth goal in as many matches to secure a vital three points in the Cottagers quest to pip Cardiff City to the second automatic promotion berth.

There is certainly no shame in losing to Fulham. The West London club are one of the best footballing sides in the division and possess a number of players who would not look out of their depth in the Premier League.

The key to the Cottagers extending their club-record unbeaten league run to 19 matches was staying patient at Hillsborough. They wore the Owls down.

Mitrovic’s predatory finish was no more than the visitors deserved. As Wednesday chief Jos Luhukay pointed out post-match, Fulham were “too strong” and the “better side”. There was plenty of pride and passion in the Owls’ display but Fulham were worthy winners.

Owls Manager Jos Luhukay....Pic Steve Ellis

Owls Manager Jos Luhukay....Pic Steve Ellis

Fulham were superior in every department and one of the best teams to visit S6 this year. They monopolised the ball and racked up 22 shots compared to Wednesday’s four. While Fulham had eight shots on target, the Owls had zero.

Wednesday battled hard and defended manfully but would have lost by more had it not been for the heroics of Joe Wildsmith. The young goalkeeper caught the eye, pulling off a series of superb stops either side of half-time.

“We are disappointed we lost the game,” said wing back Jack Hunt.

“Fulham had a lot of possession and I think we limited them to only a few chances but nothing special. Before the game, we had a bit of confidence back in the team but it wasn’t meant to be.”

Owls Joe Wildsmith at the final whistle.....Pic Steve Ellis

Owls Joe Wildsmith at the final whistle.....Pic Steve Ellis

DIAMOND JOE

Wildsmith, a consistent performer for the Owls in the second half of the campaign, is a superb shot-stopper. His distribution remains a work in progress but he came to Wednesday’s rescue on a number of occasions versus third-placed Fulham.

The Owls struggled to create chances in the opening 45 minutes and Wildsmith had to be alert to deny Sheyi Ojo and Kevin McDonald. Teenage sensation also clipped the crossbar.

Wildsmith’s best save of the afternoon came near the end of the first period when he expertly tipped Mitrovic’s bullet header over the bar following a fine run and looping cross by full-back Ryan Fredericks.

Another Owls injury set back Barry Bannan leaves the field in the first half.....Pic Steve Ellis

Another Owls injury set back Barry Bannan leaves the field in the first half.....Pic Steve Ellis

Wildsmith, a lifelong Owls fan, was also busy after the break, thwarting Stefan Johansen and Neeskens Kebano in one on one situations with solid blocks.

“Joe kept us in the game with his reflexes,” acknowledged Luhukay. “We know that he is a very talented goalkeeper.

“Joe was the best player in our team. That says enough about our team.

“We lost the game against a very strong team. The problem was when we had the ball in the second half. We gave it away too fast.

“We were losing the ball and Fulham were pressing us directly and we could not come out.”

Losing Barry Bannan to injury around the half hour mark was a big blow to Wednesday. His dynamism and creativity was missed as Fulham took control of the midfield battle.

Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith deflects a shot past his goal during the Sky Bet Championship match at Hillsborough, Sheffield. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith deflects a shot past his goal during the Sky Bet Championship match at Hillsborough, Sheffield. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

The visitors speed in wide areas caused Wednesday lots of problems. Sessegnon, 17, was instrumental in the winner. He burst into the box from the left and threaded a lovely ball across to Mitrovic, who coolly tapped home from close range.

Hunt said: “It was difficult for me because I had two v one down that side all day. But I’m not going to be happy with how I played because he (Sessegnon) set the winning goal up.”

Deep into added on time, substitute Fernando Forestieri fired narrowly over after good play by Daniel Pudil and Adam Reach but it wasn’t to be for the Owls.

LONG WAY TO GO

Both Wednesday and Fulham finished in the play-offs places last term but came up short at the semi-final stage. Since then, the Owls have regressed while Fulham have kicked on and are firmly in the hunt for a top-two finish. The stats don’t lie as Fulham are 13 places higher and 31 points better off than Wednesday with five matches remaining.

On the evidence of Saturday’s meeting, it looks a long road back to the top for the Owls.