Sheffield Wednesday 0 Birmingham 0: Owls still looking up despite misfiring again

Loan recruit Will Keane,  making his Sheffield Wednesday debut, fights for possession (Picture: Steve Ellis).
Loan recruit Will Keane, making his Sheffield Wednesday debut, fights for possession (Picture: Steve Ellis).
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AS ‘Cup fever’ continues to sweep the other half of the Steel City amid preparations for 
tonight’s League Cup semi-final and the possible visit next month of Manchester United, Wednesday can always fall back on league status for local bragging rights.

The Owls, after last night’s goalless draw at home to Birmingham City, are firmly on course to match their best league position since falling out of the Premier League 15 years ago.

Admittedly, that particular bar stands, in relation to Sheffield Wednesday’s illustrious history, quite low at the ninth place finish claimed by Brian Laws’s side in 2006-07.

But progress is progress and there is no doubt this is what Wednesday are making under Stuart Gray in a steady fashion.

The Owls are unlikely to win any awards for services to the goals industry, last night being the eighth time in 14 league games at Hillsborough that the hosts have fired a blank.

What they do possess, though, is a sturdy foundation on which Gray can build a more expansive side in the coming months.

Only Middlesbrough in the Championship have conceded fewer times than Wednesday this term and last night showed why as an in-form Birmingham City were firmly kept in check.

It is a record that explains why Wednesday are looking up the table this season and not down, as has been the case far too many times in recent years.

Considering an already heavy pitch had bizarrely been watered ahead of kick-off, it was perhaps no surprise that both teams took time to settle.

Too many mis-placed pass and mis-controls, often the result of bobbles, were the problem in a contest that never truly came to life despite there being chances at either end.

Wednesday marginally had the better of the openings, 
Darren Randolph needing to be alert to keep out a drilled shot from Jacques Maghoma that had followed exquisite approach play involving Lewis Baker and Atdhe Nuhiu.

Will Keane, on his debut from Manchester United, also had a sight of goal, but hesitated long enough for Paul Robinson to recover, while Nuhiu should have done better when presented with a whipped in cross from Maghoma.

Birmingham, meanwhile, took most of the first half to show the quality that has characterised Gary Rowett’s short time in charge.

David Cotterill finally brought a flying save from Keiren Westwood just before the break, moments after Joe Mattock had somehow denied Clayton Donaldson what looked the simple task of touching in a left-wing cross.

The visitors, with former Doncaster Rovers man Cotterill well to the fore, started the second half as they had ended the first.

Demarai Gray, the subject of a £3m bid from Bournemouth this week, came within an inch of finishing Cotterill’s cross.

Moments later, Donaldson took his turn to go close when he headed, at full stretch, a Cotterill cross wide before Gray then fired straight at Westwood after nipping past two defenders.

At the other end, Wednesday also pushed for the breakthrough as Nuhiu’s flick released Baker, but the debutant could only prod wide.

Maghoma also got to the byline and drilled a cross that just evaded Keane before Nuhiu, sparked belatedly into life by referee Trevor Kettle failing to award him a free-kick, fired just wide from the edge of the area.

Nuhiu then headed over from Liam Palmer 11 minutes from time to groans from the 18,385 crowd, who were becoming increasingly resigned to witnessing another blank from their side.

The referee, rightly, bore some of that frustration as his decision making became ever more erratic, not least when he ordered a dropped ball after Paul Robinson had received treatment for a head injury despite play having only been halted after the ball had gone out for a Wednesday throw.

As annoying as Kettle’s constant whistling proved, however, the biggest cause of the moans and groans that grew more audible as the night went on was the lack of a cutting edge from the home side.

Cotterill almost made it a totally miserable end to the night for the locals when he hit a swerving 30-yard free-kick that Westwood held at the second attempt.

But, in truth, neither side deserved any more than a point from a stalemate that means Wednesday have scored just seven times at home in the league in this campaign.

Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood; Palmer, Loovens, Lees, Mattock; Maguire (Helan 60), Semedo, Baker, Maghoma; Nuhiu, Keane (May 74). Unused substitutes: Wildsmith, Buxton, Lavery, Lee, Dielna.

Birmingham City: Randolph; Caddis, Robinson, Morrison (Spector 20), Grounds; Davis, Gleeson, Cotterill, Shinnie (Dyer 70); Gray, Donaldson (Thomas 83). Unused substitutes: Doyle, Novak, Reilly, Zigic.

Referee: T Kettle (Rutland).