ON a day when the US presidential election hogged the news agenda, there was no Super Tuesday for the Owls.
It was the swing state of the Championship – never mind politics across the Atlantic – which was fully encapsulated at Hillsborough, where managerless Blackpool, in limbo following the departure of Ian Holloway, arrived on the back of a five-match winless streak with confidence seemingly low.
But you would have never have guessed it on this evidence. After ending their serious autumnal slump by virtue of much-needed victories over the struggling duo of Peterborough United and Ipswich Town, hope was high of a third successive league victory for the Owls, only for reality to bite.
A 16th-minute strike from Thomas Ince – his eighth of the campaign – and a goal seven minutes from time from Ludovic Svlvestre secured a deserved victory for the visitors and caretaker-boss Steve Thompson. And whoever takes charge at Bloomfield Road can rest assured they have plenty of raw material to work with.
For Wednesday, it was far from ideal preparation for their tough-looking encounter at high-flying Middlesbrough in a televised Riverside Stadium clash on Friday evening, with a few boos greeting the Owls’ exit from the fray at the final whistle.
Ordered to start on the front foot by boss Dave Jones following a low-octane opening at the weekend against Posh, the Owls followed their manager’s instructions to the letter and started with vigour and purpose. But that early hope soon dissipated.
Craig Cathcart’s timely intervention denied the lurking Chris O’Grady a certain goal following Michail Antonio’s cross before a defence-splitting ball from Rhys McCabe freed Antonio, who rounded Matt Gilks, only for the backpeddling Pool defence to frantically regroup and clear the danger.
The early signs were ominous for Pool, on a downer following their 4-1 weekend humbling at Derby, with Thompson admitting their pre-match preparation was all over the place following the sudden departure of Holloway to Crystal Palace on the eve of the match.
But the Tangerines’ soon delivered a warning, courtesy of a screamer from Phillips’ which whistled just over before the highly-rated winger showed a glimpse of the talent that saw Southampton table a £6m bid for his services in the summer to help set up a polished opener on 18 minutes. Phillips unhinged the Owls’ defence with a clever pass to the supporting Elliot Grandin, whose cutback was tucked away from close range by Ince, whose father Paul has figured prominently in the betting to replace Holloway, along with the likes of Michael Appleton and Owen Coyle.
The strike smacked of Premiership class and Pool’s fluid interplay and movement, while not quite cutting Wednesday to ribbons for the rest of the first half, forced them onto the retreat for the most part.
The Owls’ best moment of the half arrived just before the break when Antonio – soon after seeing a half-shout for a penalty turned down after tangling with Neal Eardley – cut inside Alex Baptiste before firing in a fierce low shot which was blocked by Gilks.
Moments later, Ross Barkley, named as the Owls’ player-of-the-month for October – shot wide in a rare pocket of home pressure.
In a bid to inject fresh life into his side, Jones changed things around at half-time, bringing on livewire Jermaine Johnson for O’Grady, with Jay Bothroyd reverting back to his day job as a central striker after starting on the right.
An industrial rather than methodical punt forward presented a golden chance for the Owls to level soon after the restart with Antonio’s pace and persistence enabling him to evade the Pool defence before blazing wildly off target.
The intent at least was markedly better from Wednesday, with McCabe soon curling a shot over following an enterprising run from Johnson, who quickly set about justifying Jones’ decision to bring him on.
Just before the hour mark, Pool went desperately close to claiming a two-goal buffer when the unmarked Gary Taylor-Fletcher’s header clipped the crossbar following Eardley’s sweet cross before Baptiste blocked Johnson’s goalbound strike.
While not as free-flowing as in the first period, Pool retained an element of menace on the break through Ince and Phillips. Johnson was on hand to deliver a cross which was headed over by Miguel Llera, desperate for a moment to savour against his former club.
Pool sealed the deal on 83 minutes when Sylvestre tapped home after Chris Kirkland parried sub Nathan Delfouneso’s low shot into his path.
Sheffield Wednesday: Kirkland; Buxton, Llera, Gardner, Jones; Semedo; Bothroyd, Barkley, McCabe (Rodri 76), Antonio; O’Grady (J Johnson 46). Unused substitutes: Davies, Taylor, Madine, Mattock, Pecnik.
Blackpool: Gilks; Eardley, Cathcart, Baptiste, Crainey; Grandin, Sylvestre (Gomes 84), Basham; Ince, Taylor-Fletcher (Delfouneso 77), M Phillips (Dicko 90). Unused substitutes: Halstead, Martinez, Harris, Broadfoot.
Referee: A D’Urso (Essex).