Sheffield Wednesday 3 Brighton 1: Owls on the up

Sheffield Wednesday v Brighton Hove Albion....GOAL..Owls Leroy Lita scores first goal
Sheffield Wednesday v Brighton Hove Albion....GOAL..Owls Leroy Lita scores first goal
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WHILE the melee on the touchline was a sideshow, Wednesday topped the bill in the main event and cast a fresh spotlight on their scrap for Championship survival.

Deserved victory in an extraordinary clash with a good side puts the Owls on 35 points - only 15 short of the traditional safety mark.

So they are possibly only five wins away from their target with 16 games still to go, and three of the next four are at home.

Some may say that is no real advantage, in view of the club’s Hillsborough form in recent months, and there is no guarantee that 50 points will be enough, but the way they handled the challenge of Brighton even before the Seagulls went down to 10 men added to the evidence that they are on the right lines - even if the win did have its element of good fortune.

The Owls were unruffled by the visitors’ possession football, after hitting them with a very early goal, were well organised throughout, and posed threats going forward. It was a complete contrast to their 3-0 defeat at the Amex Stadium in September.

“The players did themselves proud,” said Dave Jones. “I said after the game at their place that their level was what we were trying to get to. This shows how far we have come.

“I thought midfield players, Giles Coke, David Prutton and Kieran Lee, were outstanding. They had to be. We knew Brighton would try to keep the ball. We forced the mistakes, broke on them well, and could have won more easily.”

Inevitably the 72nd minute sending-off of Jones and Brighton coach Charlie Oatway and the confrontation that preceded this became a major talking point. It was hard to spot exactly what had happened; eyes were suddenly drawn to a crowd of bodies in the technical area, most of them, including stewards, seemingly trying to keep the peace.

One eye witness claimed that Jones had pushed Oatway before the incident escalated. Subsquently, as order was being restored and the two were some distance apart, Oatway was certainly restrained from getting closer to Jones and could be seen mouthing in his direction.

The ref walked across to hear from fourth official Mark Jones what had happened, then directed Jones to the stand, and approached Oatway, who was back on the bench by now, to send him off too.

Both managers played down the incident and refused to say who said what or who did what to whom.

The flashpoint was a tackle by Danny Pugh on Inigo Calderon on the far side of the pitch. It was a booking, all right, but not worth a sending-off. At least one Brighton player, however, protested strongly to the referee, and Jones implied that the Brighton camp - presumably somebody within earshot - were complaining and trying to get Pugh sent off so the ‘score’ would be even after the inevitable dismissal of Ashley Barnes for an awful, flying tackle on Lee in the 32nd minute.

Jones reflected afterwards that things are said or done “in the heat of battle” and that if the boot had been on the other foot, he might have had the same viewpoint as Brighton.

With no complaints about his sending-off, and dubbing the whole incident “handbags”, he said: “I think the referee did the right thing by calming it all down.”

Brighton boss Guy Poyet said: “What happens on the pitch stays on the pitch. There’s passion. There are people who care for their team and want the three points.”

Poyet said he hoped Leroy Lita would agree he was a bit lucky with his goal. Like me, Poyet thought at first that it was a great finish, a clean, right-foot volley from a superb left-side cross by Michail Antonio. The cameras seemed to show that scenario, as well.

But it seems that the view from the South Stand was misleading. Jones, describing it as “poacher’s goal”, explained that Lita admitted he actually volleyed the ball on to his head, so it went in off his head.

Poyer had no complaints about the red card for Barnes.

From the resulting free kick, Pugh whipped the ball into the far bottom corner with that impressive left foot from a narrow angle on the right, for his first goal since he got one for Leeds in a 3-0 win at Doncaster in October, 2011.

Jones praised Pugh’s set pieces and the balance and experience that he has brought to the left flank, where on Saturday he compensated for the absence of Reda Johnson, who has gone to see a specialist in Marseille about his troublesome ankle problem.

Wednesday were on the back foot for the first 10 minutes of the second half after the unleashing from the bench of the lively Craig Mackail-Smith, who, with the aid of a poor clearance from Lewis Buxton, helped to set up Brighton’s goal.

Wednesday scored two minutes later: Tomasz Kuszczak missed a Pugh corner, and Antonio showed his strength in forcing the ball over the line despite the close attention of Inigo Calderon. Brighton complained again, but I saw no foul on the keeper or the right back.

The Owls stayed in command for the rest of the game and could have made it 4-1 via a late chance for Lee, set up by Helan.