Sheffield Wednesday are no longer machine-like – They must regain it fast or face play-off chaos

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Sheffield Wednesday must regain a knack for machine-like efficiency if they are to go on to win a League One title they looked all but nailed on for just a fortnight ago.

The Owls were held to a 1-1 draw by a dogged Lincoln City side on what threw up an oddity in the position they find themselves in – nervous dissatisfaction despite leapfrogging Plymouth Argyle into top spot in the third tier table.

The fact is of course that the jump to first comes in large part thanks to the Pilgrims being out of action thanks to a pizza-sponsored Wembley outing on Sunday afternoon. And with the chasing pack snowballing in momentum heading into the final weeks of a relentless campaign, Wednesday’s search for a win goes into a sixth match.

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The Imps were described as a ‘tough nut to crack’ pre-match, a fact evidenced by the fact their Hillsborough scramble was a 19th league draw of the season – by far and away the highest tally in the EFL. An ability to claw on to points against the better teams in League One has been evident, though little will ease the headache of Wednesday who will head home mourning two points lost rather than one gained.

Frustrated Owls players after a 1-1 draw  Pic Steve EllisFrustrated Owls players after a 1-1 draw  Pic Steve Ellis
Frustrated Owls players after a 1-1 draw Pic Steve Ellis

Control has become a theme of conversation in deciphering the Owls’ current form funk – or rather a lack of it. But for the first half hour of the match the Owls used the ball better than they had done in their previous four; probing, incisive in key moments.

A long throw from Will Vaulks on 12 minutes proved to be the catalyst for a spot of panic in the Lincoln defence; a clearance fudged, a touch out of his feet and back in. With Michael Smith and Aden Flint waiting, it was the striker that nodded past Carl Rushworth in the Imps goal.

The feeling within the stadium in the moments that followed was one of relief, that this was the moment that would settle their squad down and resume the sort of calmness that saw the side break records aplenty through the season. Wednesday were back on track.

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It was a feeling that lasted a further 16 minutes. Sloppy in possession, Lincoln broke and when David Stockdale was able only to parry a long-range shot into the path of Danny Madriou, the half changed.

Between that 26th-minute goal and half-time was the period that most irked Darren Moore post-match and serves as the most concerning going forward. A side packed with gnarling, snarling League One pros went to pieces and were for moments second best. The promising nature of the opening 20 minutes evaporated into the Sheffield air.

The fortnight before weighs heavy, it seems – and things are getting heavier.

It took the 15-minute break for Wednesday’s vastly experienced squad to shake off the shock of that Lincoln goal. The problem was that it also offered Mark Kennedy the chance to restructure. A second half of attack-versus-defence followed and Wednesday were unable to break the Imps down.

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There were chances, none more heartbeat-racing than those that fell to Michael Smith in the final seconds. Alas.

Between the boxes it was a display not wholly dissimilar to the countless 1-0 victories that came before. But that machine-like efficiency has gone and in place of it has arrived a wave of individual errors that were non-existant while they went about building a club record tally of clean sheets.

Saturday’s performance was no horror show. But it contributes further to a whirlpool of recent disappointment in which they haven’t yet been able to draw breath.

Wednesday must find their efficiency again or their looking over the shoulder will get more and more lingering. Let’s hope those looks don’t turn to a stare.

The chaos of the play-offs is back there.