Atdhe Nuhiu’s first goal of the season proved enough for Wednesday to see off Oxford United and book a place in the third round of the Capital One Cup.
The scoreline alone may suggest it was a tense evening at Hillsborough but in truth it was a fairly comfortable evening’s work for Carlos Carvalhal’s side. Nuhiu headed into an empty net just after half time to make sure of their passage into the next stage.
While they lacked real quality in the final third, they controlled possession and could easily have won by a greater margin.
Given the busy calendar of fixtures August has delivered, avoiding extra time was a must for a Wednesday side that have looked rather sluggish late on in recent games.
The game’s only goal delivered reward to Nuhiu who has ploughed a lone furrow for Wednesday for much of the season so far. Much maligned, his work rate rarely comes under question and it was another tough shift for the Austrian forward.
There was impressive work too from the trio of central midfielders Alex Lopez, Jose Semedo and Kieran Lee, who showed great energy right through the game.
Head coach Carvalhal continued to implement his rotation policy, making five changes from the draw at Leeds United at the weekend.
Jack Hunt, Jeremy Helan, Lopez, Ross Wallace and Caolan Lavery all came into the side as Carvalhal stuck with the 4-2-3-1 system he has preferred so far this season.
Possession play from Wednesday was largely strong throughout. Looking to bide their time and find the gaps, they kept hold of the ball well and moved it around patiently.
There were numerous flowing attacking moves from the Owls, building quickly from the middle of the park.
But the all-too familiar problem was the lack of a real spark or piece of quality in the final third to truly unlock a game Oxford outfit. It was a pattern that played out through both halves.
The visitors from League Two impressed with tidy play of their own, operating with two tight banks of four but springing forward quickly on the counterattack. They did however struggle to threaten Wednesday in both periods and further strengthened the case for the signing of a new striker before the transfer window closes on Tuesday.
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The Owls were largely in control in the first half, dominating the ball in midfield. Lopez and Lee both buzzed around in the spaces to try to make things happen.
Wednesday could easily have been in front after five minutes. From a Ross Wallace corner, Tom Lees powered past his marker to scuff a downward header which needed quick reactions from United keeper Sam Slocombe on the line to keep out.
And Lees was involved from another corner moments later, flicking on to the back post where Vincent Sasso fired wide across goal from a tight angle.
Wallace drilled narrowly wide from 25 yards as Wednesday continued to push but their best work continued to come outside the box. Lopez stung the palms of Slocombe with a powerful drive from 25 yards midway through the half.
A rapid break from Wednesday put Wallace into space on the right but his cross was a little too deep for Nuhiu who could only scuff a header wide.
The best move of the game from the Owls came just after the half hour mark. Starting in their own half, six short, sharp passes released them into the box before Lee was blocked out with a brave challenge from Sam Long.
An ankle injury for Long just before the break left him screaming in pain and he left the pitch on a stretcher, taking in gas and air.
The goal for Wednesday finally came nine minutes into the second half. And after all the slick possession play, it was a particularly scrappy effort. Nuhiu and Slocombe clashed as they looked to meet a cross from Jeremy Helan. The ball dropped for Jack Hunt, who poked it back across with Nuhiu pouncing on a failed clearance to nod into an empty net.
Oxford almost equalised immediately when Callum O’Dowda was not tracked down the right and charged into the box before a powerful low strike which went just wide.
Though the visitors would enjoy more possession immediately after the goal, Nuhiu’s effort did not particularly alter the pattern of the game. Wednesday still enjoyed more of the ball while Oxford were restricted to attacks on the break.
Nuhiu almost doubled the lead four minutes after the opener with a powerful near- post header from a corner.
But probably their most clear cut chance of the game came with 20 minutes to go and saw substitutes Modou Sougou and Marco Matias combine. Sougou stood up a cross for Matias who darted in and headed only for Slocombe to save with his feet.
There were a few nervy moments late on from Wednesday when slack play at the back allowed Oxford to advance but the visitors never really tested Lewis Price.
In the last minute of normal time, Alex MacDonald drilled a free kick just wide of the top corner but Wednesday held on.
Sheffield Wednesday: Price, Hunt, Lees, Sasso, Helan, Lopez, Semedo, Lavery (Matias 64), Lee, Wallace (Sougou 64), Nuhiu. Subs not used: Wildsmith, Palmer, Hutchinson, McGugan, Bus.
Oxford United: Slocombe, Long (Sercombe 45), Dunkley, Mullins, Skarz, O’Dowda, Lundstram (Rose 70), Ruffels, MacDonald, Hoban (Hylton 77), Taylor. Subs not used: Crocombe, Baldock, Roofe, Wright.
Referee: David Webb (Lancashire).