When the draw was made for the fifth round of the FA Cup last night, Sheffield Wednesday should have been one of the names in the hat.
Up against a side battling to retain their League One status, the Owls twice went ahead through Lewis McGugan, either side of half-time. If you score twice on the road, you should be winning.
In the closing stages of an absorbing tie, Wednesday led 2-1. They should have been able to see the contest out.
After substitute Shaun Whalley had equalised for Shrewsbury, Carlos Carvalhal’s side should have been awarded a penalty after Zak Whitbread manhandled Atdhe Nuhiu in the penalty area. Whitbread jumped high in an aerial collision and climbed all over Nuhiu. If that clash had taken place anywhere else on the pitch, it would have been a foul.
Following the full-time whistle, Carvalhal and his players surrounded referee Paul Tierney, protesting and complaining over the no penalty call. You could understand why they felt a sense of injustice.
“I think it’s unbelievable how four people can’t give the penalty,” said a frustrated Carvalhal. “It was a crucial moment in the last minute.
“You know that I’m a long time at the club and I never talk about referees, never talk about excuses, but of course when the score was 2-2 there was a moment that was a very clear penalty to Nuhiu and it can decide the game.
“I don’t believe that anybody on the pitch saw something different than a big penalty, but the referee and assistants didn’t see what everybody saw. It was a very strange decision.”
While a major refereeing decision didn’t go their way, was that the main reason why Wednesday were knocked out of the cup? Absolutely not.
Too many individuals failed to perform to their potential and some abject defending robbed them of the chance of reaching the last 16 for the second time in three seasons. It was a big missed opportunity.
With one eye on a tough double-header against promotion rivals Burnley and Birmingham City this week, head coach Carvalhal made wholesale changes. He rested a string of senior players, including skipper Glenn Loovens, Sam Hutchinson and Fernando Forestieri.
Vincent Sasso and in-form striker Gary Hooper were the sole survivors from the side who drew 1-1 at Reading.
Fringe players such as Lewis Price, Liam Palmer, Modou Sougou, McGugan and Jose Semedo were handed opportunities to impress. Michael Turner and Marco Matias returned after lengthy injury lay-offs. Joe Bennett came in for his debut and Lucas Joao was also given a run-out.
Carvalhal said: “I think it was important to protect the players for Tuesday. We had players to play this game with the full energy and to do their best. We needed to play people who haven’t played much like Turner, Price, Matias and Bennett. We will need them all during the season.”
Few Wednesdayites had complaints over Carvalhal’s team selection. Three of their starting line-up have played at international level and several of them have plied their trade in the Premier League. The reality is the Owls still had more than enough quality on show to do the business.
At half-time, they were cruising. The Shrews stood off them and McGugan, making his first start in a little over three months, controlled the middle of the park, effectively switching play from side to side. Bennett showed some nice touches while Matias was bright and his direct running caused the hosts some discomfort.
After McGugan’s curling 35-yard in-swinging free kick sailed past one-time Wednesday transfer target Jayson Leutwiler and into the net, Matias and Joao could have increased their lead before the interval. It was a one-sided half and the Shrews offered little in the final third.
Whatever Shrewsbury manager Micky Mellon said to his players at the break had the desired effect.
It was a proper cup tie after the restart.
They got in Wednesday’s faces, forcing them into unforced errors in possession, and played some neat football, belying their lowly league position.
Shrewsbury’s improved showing lifted the atmosphere and their fans drove them on.
Larnell Cole and Jack Grimmer had sights at goal before Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro’s 56th-minute equaliser on a bitterly cold afternoon in Shropshire. Andy Mangan exploited Wednesday’s new-look back four, delivering a fine cross which was headed in by the striker, who could have completed the turnaround just after the hour mark only to be denied by the agility of Price.
McGugan and Price can hold their heads up high, knowing they did all they could to keep their side in the cup.
McGugan issued a timely reminder of his goalscoring capabilities by grabbing a second, firing a right-foot shot in from long range. It was the former Nottingham Forest and Watford player’s fifth goal in 12 appearances this season. It begs the question why his undoubted gifts have not been utilised more often by Carvalhal.
There should have been no way back for Shrewsbury following McGugan’s second strike. But Mellon’s troops rallied superbly and Tierney pointed to the spot after Sasso’s clumsy trip on Akpa-Akpro. Price produced a good stop, diving to his left, to foil Akpa-Akpro from 12 yards but Whalley slotted in the rebound.
Moments after Nuhiu’s penalty appeal was controversially turned down, the Shrews bagged a third. Scott Vernon broke clear and supplied a pinpoint cross for Grimmer to head in and spark jubilant, wild celebrations among the home contingent. Should there have been six minutes added-on time? Absolutely not. Grimmer, on loan from Fulham, netted in the seventh.
The Owls would have dearly loved a money-spinning run in the FA Cup, but now have to quickly turn their thoughts back to league matters.
Shrewsbury: Leutwiler 6; Smith 6 (Wallace 78), Whitbread 7, Knight-Percival 6; Grimmer 7, Black 6 (Whalley 78), Clark 7, Cole 6, Brown 7; Akpa Akpro 7 (Vernon 90), Mangan 7. Substitutes: Sadler, Ogogo, Jones, Halstead.
Wednesday: Price 7; Palmer 6, Turner 6, Sasso 6, Bennett 6; Sougou 5 (Wallace 71), Semedo 6, McGugan 7, Matias 6 (Lee 78); Hooper 6 (Nuhiu 61, 5), Joao 5. Substitutes: Dawson,, Bus, Pudil, Bannan.
Referee: Paul Tierney (Lancashire).
Attendance: 5,699 (1,502).