Exeter 5 Sheffield Wednesday 1: Angry Irvine blasts Owls

SO this is how Bristol Rovers must have felt.

A week after Sheffield Wednesday pounded the Pirates 6-2, Alan Irvine's side found themselves on the wrong end of a sound thrashing, losing 5-1 to Exeter City at St James's Park.

It was hardly the ideal start to Milan Mandaric's reign and emphasised the task the Serbian-born businessman faces in righting the Owls ship, after the ratification of his takeover last Tuesday had prompted thoughts of a new dawn at Hillsborough.

Owls manager Irvine, who made no changes to the side that thrashed Rovers in front of the watching Mandaric last Saturday, was bemused at the complete reversal of fortunes in the only League One fixture to survive the cold snap.

The Scot said: "We're very angry, extremely disappointed and surprised.

"We seemed to cave in after we conceded the second goal and our defending was appalling in the second half.

"I certainly didn't foresee that coming.

"Before this game we had the second-best defensive record in the league so it's not something that had looked like coming.

"I'll obviously have a look at everything that went on as I always do whether we win, lose or draw and we'll have to learn lessons from it."

With every other fixture in the division postponed due to the current bad weather, the Owls had the chance to jump to the top of League One and leapfrog Brighton on goal difference.

"It's frustrating because we had a fantastic opportunity to build on what we did last week," added Irvine, whose Owls missed a similar opportunity two weeks ago when their trip to Swindon Town was the only game to go ahead – and Wednesday lost that one, 2-1.

"We've been in good form for some considerable time now and had a chance to go top of the league but we didn't do it.

"The second-half performance after the second goal was unacceptable. The players are very disappointed with how they performed and the sooner the Tranmere game comes around, and we have the chance to do something about today, the better.

"It was a very, very poor defensive display in the second half. We caved in and you can't do that.

"The second half performance was totally unacceptable.

"We became very open as the game went on because we were trying to get back into the game and that doesn't help.

"But we still have to defend better.

"Exeter's second goal was a terrific strike, there is no question about it and these things happen. But it is important then to bounce back from that and we didn't do that.

"I hope it's a freak result. I don't work in a way where I will just write it off and say: "Never mind, we'll move on" because I do mind."

Things looked promising for Wednesday at half-time as the two sides reached the interval tied at 1-1, Tommy Miller having equalised for the visitors just two minutes after the Grecians' Jamie Cureton had scored the opener.

However, it was all one-way traffic after the break.

Liam Sercombe got the hosts' Christmas party started in spectacular fashion, chesting down a half-cleared corner 25 yards out and volleying a blockbuster into the top left-hand corner of the net for 2-1 on 57 minutes.

Within four minutes the game was out of sight for the Owls, as Scott Golbourne slotted home his first goal for the Grecians at the back post after team-mates Darren Purse and Mark Beevers had collided in their attempts to clear Sercombe's initial cross.

From there it only got worse for the Owls as City's confidence levels soared, allowing Paul Tisdale's men to take full advantage of some truly woeful defending.

Cureton put the result beyond all doubt with 20 minutes to go when he raced between two lumbering Wednesday defenders to latch on to Golbourne's through ball and coolly slot beneath the unrushing Nicky Weaver.

And the festive icing was planted on the cake with three minutes to go when substitute John O'Flynn chested down Cureton's centre and fired into the corner past a bedraggled-looking Weaver.

"We have had some terrific days at the Park and this is another," said Exeter manager Tisdale, whose side are up to ninth.

"It would have been so easy to call the game off but such is the depth, care and commitment here, that we did everything we could to get it on – and sometimes you get what you deserve."

Exeter City: Krysiak; Tully, Duffy, Taylor, B Jones, Golbourne; Sercombe, Noble (Dunne, 46), Harley (Thomson, 90); Logan (O'Flynn, 57), Cureton. Unused substitutes: P Jones, Nardiello, Cozic, Edwards

Sheffield Wednesday: Weaver; Jones, Purse, Beevers, Spurr; Sedgwick (Mellor, 60), Potter, Miller, Teale; Johnson, Morrison. Unused substitutes: Jameson, Hinds, Heffernan, O'Connor, Boden, Palmer.

Referee: F Graham (Essex).

Man of the match: Jamie Cureton (Exeter).

MATCH FOCUS

Hero: Wednesday fans

With fewer fans on the road as the Arctic conditions gripped Britain, Wednesday supporters at least had a game to go to, but their long journey south was in vain as their team were humiliated by Exeter.

Villain: Owls defence

Wednesday's plight was highlighted when Darren Purse, pictured, and Mark Beevers ran into each other to gift Exeter's Scott Golbourne with the fourth goal.

Key moment

57th minute: Liam Sercombe's goal was a beauty and it led to the Owls' dramatic collapse.

Ref Watch

Fred Graham: Easy one for the Essex official once his car keys had pierced the Exeter turf.

Verdict

Alan Irvine hopes this is a one-off, as will all the fans and a certain Milan Mandaric.

Next game

Tranmere, away, League One, Boxing Day, 3.00pm.

Quote of the day

I don't work in a way where I will just write it off and say: "Never mind, we'll move on" because I do mind.

– Alan Irvine's frank assessment of Wednesday's embarrassing defeat.

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