Sheffield Wednesday once again punished from the bench in sickening late Preston show
“I can’t believe they haven’t scored,” the frustrated co-commentator strained in the Hillsborough press box. “They’ve done everything but put it in the back of the net.”
Refreshing, perhaps, for those words to burst from behind the mask of a Radio Lancashire employee rather than one from Sheffield. But not for long. It was once again Sheffield Wednesday that would trudge back into their changing room with wounds to lick.
As the Lancashire side time and again created chances in a relentless first half assault on the Owls penalty area, as the minutes ticked by and the chances dried up, as Wednesday dared to pinch a foothold in the game, the shoe was placed dangled delicately on the other foot when Jacob Murphy danced through the defence to open the scoring.
The shoe was kicked off and thrown back onto the Owls trotter though, with a sickening blow with three minutes to go. And how.
Where Wednesday have had the better of matches over the past couple of weeks, particularly in the first half, they had been so harshly punished for not making their purple patches count. Chances would come and chances would go and inevitably the other lot would score.
For a long time it was felt that it would be Wednesday that would do the punishing. That was until the demons of bizarre defence struck, anyway, along with an under-resourced bench and tired legs.
The rebuilding job ahead of Sheffield Wednesday is enormous. That’s not exactly breaking news at this stage of the season, but if there was any lingering doubt of just how big a few weeks the Owls have ahead of them in terms of squad transition, the list of 20 men named to take part in the clash settles it.
Two men that are likely to feature going forward, however, conspired to gift Scott Sinclair the chance to equalise. Julian Börner missed his header Dominic Iorfa failed for once to recover. And as Wednesday began to take control of the affair, it was 1-1.
And after Börner’s headed goal sent the Owls bench into raptures with five minutes to go, as all the pain and frustration of the last fortnight was bellowed into the South Yorkshire air, vindication at last was felt.
So cruel, so sickening then, was it that Börner’s effort was cancelled out for offside. So cruel, so sickening it was that Jordan Stockley smashed it past Joe Wildsmith 90 seconds later to give Preston the win.
So sickening, so cruel that Potts made it 3-1 in injury time.
Much has been made of the threadbare squad Garry Monk has been left with after the departures of Steven Fletcher, Morgan Fox and Fernando Forestieri at the turn of the month and for the first time really that was felt as Wednesday produced a series of leggy periods – none more so than the opening half-hour – without much on the bench to inspire a grand freshen-up.
Another player that will be central to the Wednesday re-brand is Barry Bannan, who blitzed around in an attempt to kick start the Owls’ threat going forward throughout.
His frustration was there for all to see on an evening where too few of his teammates surfed the correct wavelength.
Set further forward with Joey Pelupessy playing midfield guardian, the little Scot put yet more miles into legs that have seen better days. A further concern now is surely whether he and the other men on whom this new system is fated – Murphy, Iorfa, Palmer among them – can sustain their efforts with four matches still to play within a fortnight.
Murphy perhaps is the primary concern after he hobbled off holding his back just a few moments after his goal – his sixth of an impressive season on loan from Newcastle – a knock Wednesday will be desperate to confirm isn’t too serious.
That Preston’s experienced substitutes made such an impact on the match, Stockley grabbed a goal and an assist, Sinclair came from the bench too. Once Adam Reach, Moses Odubajo and Josh Windass had emerged for Wednesday, Jordan Rhodes was left sat with a goalkeeper and four teenagers.
There’s no doubt that the five-substitute rule is punishing clubs with smaller squads, it punished Wednesday against West Brom and it happened again against Preston.
For all the cruelty and all the frustration, this is another one that the Owls really should have taken something from and the arching look back over their shoulder will continue as the threat of a points deduction refuses yet to be put to bed. Preston arrived seven games without a win and Wednesday, well, we know where they’re at.
There are some tough, tough games on the horizon and no time for sulking or licking wounds. Garry Monk must rouse his players, battered, bruised and bereft of good feeling, into another battle, this time at QPR, on Saturday.
Sheffield Wednesday: Wildsmith; Palmer, Iorfa, Borner; Murphy (Odubajo 64), Luongo, Pelupessy, Bannan, Harris (Reach 88); Da Cruz (Windass 70), Nuhiu
Subs unused: Dawson, Rhodes, Hunt, Hughes, Grant, Shaw
Preston North End: Rudd, Pearson (Johnson 65), Davies, Browne, Storey, Rafferty, Hughes (Sinclair 76), Ledson (Potts 65), Bauer, Maguire (Stockley 76), Barkhuizen (Gallagher 83)
Subs unused: Ripley, Fisher, Nugent