Positive performance. Negative result.
You don’t always get what you deserve in sport.
And the Owls’ 4-2 defeat to automaticpromotion contenders Aston Villa was harsh in the extreme and an unfair reflection of a gripping, enthralling contest.
As Wednesday manager Jos Luhukay was keen to point out, the home team “were much better than the score suggests”. They had third-placed Villa on the ropes, particularly in the first half, creating chance after chance and fully merited a 2-1 half-time lead after goals by Sean Clare and Lucas Joao.
But Villa gave them a lesson in finishing after the break, claiming an eighth win in 10 Championship matches through strikes by ex-Owl Glenn Whelan, Conor Hourihane and a Robert Snodgrass penalty in added-on time.
The home fans booed off referee Neil Swarbrick and sang ‘4-2 to the referee’ at the final whistle. Several of the Premier League official’s decisions did not carry favour with the Hillsborough faithful. He incensed Wednesdayites after ignoring a strong penalty claim in the opening 45 minutes when George Boyd appeared to be tripped in the penalty box and he also controversially waved play on when Atdhe Nuhiu seemed to be caught by John Terry when through on goal at 2-2.
It was not a dirty match by any stretch of the imagination yet Wednesday received three bookings to Villa’s none and were adjudged to have committed 16 fouls compared to the visitors’ one. Swarbrick had an absolute stinker.
Although the Owls fell foul of a number of refereeing calls, Luhukay refused to blame Swarbrick for their second consecutive loss.
He said: “I have been in football a long time and I don’t criticise the referees. We had the chances to win, not the referee. We forgot in the important moments to score and Aston Villa didn’t.”
If any player did not deserve to be on the losing side, it was Clare. The midfielder was here, there and everywhere.
His 14th-minute opener rounded off an intricate, free-flowing move involving Joao, Boyd and Nuhiu.
“I’ve been here a couple of years now. I’ve watched a lot of games at Hillsborough, so to score was a fantastic feeling,” conceded Clare.
“I’ve been happy with my performances over the past two games, but the results are the most important thing.
“Derby was a good result, but Villa wasn’t the best. Even if you have a good game, you need to look at the negatives.”
The 21-year-old is athletic, quick and a fearless competitor. He could have had a hat-trick in the first period. His vision and forward runs from deep positions left Steve Bruce, Luhukay’s managerial counterpart, purring. He didn’t earn the nickname ‘Sean Flair’ for nothing.
The sooner Wednesday get Clare tied down to a new long-term contract the better. He looks a top prospect.
Had the Owls taken their opportunities, Luhukay’s side could have been out of sight.
But Wednesday let Villa off the hook and the visitors exploited their weakness from set-plays, scoring their first equaliser from a free-kick and the third from a corner.
Luhukay acknowledged: “We must defend better from set-pieces and crosses from the flanks. They were always dangerous. We must not make stupid fouls. I think we gave away too many free-kicks and corners. You make yourself problems when you do that. We can take a lot of positives from the game but we know we must defend better from set-pieces.”
Three of the last six goals the Owls have shipped have come from dead-ball situations.
“I think throughout the game we played really well, we just need to tighten up a bit to get the wins that we need,” said Clare.
“We have shown how well we can play against a really good side. We played well so it makes the result all the more disappointing.
“We just need to regroup. We are a good bunch of lads, we will pick ourselves up and go again.”
It was puzzling why Luhukay did not make any changes in the second half. Some of Wednesday’s players looked a little weary following a hectic schedule as Villa pushed them deeper and deeper back into their own half.
Luhukay said: “I think the team was good in the game so I did not think it was necessary to do something.”
In the situation the Owls find themselves in, it is points rather than performances they need right now.