Burnley 0 Sheff Weds 1: Owls stretch excellent start thanks to Nuhiu

Owls's Liam Palmer and Atdhe Nuhiu celebrate at the final whistle. Picture: Steve Ellis.
Owls's Liam Palmer and Atdhe Nuhiu celebrate at the final whistle. Picture: Steve Ellis.
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IF A well-known brand of continental lager did starts to a season, then Sheffield Wednesday supporters have an idea of what it would taste it.

The latest leg of an August fixture list that looked daunting ahead of the opening-day trip to Brighton has been ticked off and the Owls could be forgiven for wanting the first month of 2014-15 to last a good while longer.

A coolly-taken 78th-minute penalty from substitute Atdhe Nuhiu, five minutes after coming on, booked the buoyant Owls a third-round berth, with their opening to the current campaign now their best since 1990-91.

Nuhiu was spot on after ex-Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers defender Jason Shackell was penalised for a sprawling challenge on Jeremy Helan just inside the area to give Stuart Gray’s side their third successive success on the road of the season.

It extended the Owls’ remarkable unbeaten run at Turf Moor to nine matches, a sequence stretching back to October 2000.

The win may have lacked the panache of the weekend success at Middlesbrough, but Wednesday fans who made up a fair portion of the 4,979 attendance will not be caring a jot after their heroes extended their unbeaten seasonal run to six games – as joyous as it has been unexpected.

Neither for that matter will former Clarets coach and caretaker-manager Gray, who may have offered kind words regarding Burnley in the build-up to the tie, but did not extend it to any charity on the pitch.

Wednesday were organised and obdurate and took the game’s telling chance when it came and while the cries of Wembley from away fans may be more than a little presumptuous, one could forgive them for their wild optimism given an opening to the season which will be dream-like if Nottingham Forest are vanquished this weekend.

Judging by the meagre smattering of Clarets fans who turned out, the tie clearly represented the unappetising filling sandwiched between the two deluxe home league encounters with Chelsea and Manchester United.

With 38 ‘cup finals’ to negotiate in the Premier League, the smart money was always on Sean Dyche’s selection being pragmatic, especially with a sell-out Saturday lunchtime derby with Louis van Gaal’s United in view.

The fact that just four players who started the weekend loss at Swansea lined up from the beginning last night emphasised that.

The Owls have their own eagerly-anticipated televised showpiece to consider on Saturday, with Gray – with that in mind – resting weekend heroes Nuhiu and Stevie May, two of four changes made, with the pair cooling their heels on the bench.

One of them in Chris Kirkland was handed the captain’s armband for the night, but had little substantive to do in the first period.

Arguably his biggest cause for alarm arrived just a few minutes in with Michael Kightly’s fresh-air shot when well placed following Ross Wallace’s deep cross being both wasteful and wild.

At the other end, the industrious Gary Madine, ploughing a lone furrow up top, headed powerfully over from Chris Maguire’s corner when well placed.

The closest to a first-half breakthrough arrived on 18 minutes when a miscued clearance from Kevin Long, in his first home start this calendar year, following Liam Palmer’s centre clipped the woodwork with Matthew Gilks beaten.

The hosts, for whom Ross Wallace looked the man most likely to conjure something, upped the ante on the restart with Barnes’s low shot grasped by Kirkland before Marvin Sordell swivelled neatly before firing over.

With a healthy midweek away following from South Yorkshire doing their best to generate some atmosphere, the Owls were not short of inspiration.

Madine’s downward header following Helan’s cross had them on their feet on 55 minutes, but the effort was comfortably held by Gilks.

The action was a blessed release from the first period, with Maguire, who netted at Turf Moor in a 1-1 draw in January, then firing fiercely into the side-netting.

Owls fans soon got their wish when May entered the fray, but it was another replacement, in Matt Taylor, who threatened next with his low shot drifting wide.

The decisive moment eventually came when Shackell injudiciously felled Helan, with Nuhiu stroking home his fourth goal of an increasingly bountiful campaign.

In the final 10 minutes, Danny Ings and Lukas Jutkiewicz were thrown on by Dyche, but the key blow had already been struck by another replacement.

Burnley: Gilks, Trippier, Long, Shackell, Ward; Kightly (Ings 82), Jones (Taylor 60), Arfield, Wallace; Sordell (Jutkiewicz 83), Barnes. Unused substitutes: Heaton, Duff, Reid, Mee.

Sheffield Wednesday: Kirkland; Palmer, Lees, Zayatte, Mattock; Semedo; Maguire (Nuhiu 73), Coke, Helan, Maghoma (May 63); Madine. Unused substitutes: Westwood, Loovens, McCabe, Corry, Floro.

Referee: G Eltringham (Tyne & Wear).