Stuart Gray was left to ponder the old saying ‘bad things come in threes’ after watching Sheffield Wednesday’s defensive record shattered.
Before Saturday’s visit of Watford – who left Hillsborough with three points and sitting top of the Championship – the Owls had only conceded three goals in six home matches.
But goals from Odion Ighalo, Amen Abdi and Matej Vydra –three players who would score highly on the Scrabble board –saw the Owls’ new-found defensive resolve crumble.
But it was not just the goals which had Gray grumbling, but three pieces of bad fortune in the opening 45 minutes.
First, midfield maestro Sam Hutchinson lasted just six minutes of his comeback before limping off with a knee injury.
Secondly, on 21 minutes Vydra and Ighalo were both in offside positions for the first goal, but no flag was raised.
And thirdly, goalkeeper Keiren Westwood – who has hardly put a foot wrong since his summer move from Sunderland – was left red-faced when he allowed Abdi’s shot to squirm through his grasp in the 38th minute.
It meant Gray knew it was not going to be Wednesday’s day long before Roysten Drenthe was booked for diving in the box in the 88th minute for what the Owls coach called a “nailed-on penalty”.
“These things tend to happen in threes,” said Gray.
“Sam getting injured knocked us back a bit, then the first goal was blatantly offside.
“As soon as the ball was played through, I thought he is going to put the flag up and I think 10,000 fans appealed at the same time.
“That was disappointing, a second setback, and then unusual for us and Keiren Westwood, the error he has made for the second goal, that’s probably the only mistake he has made since he has been at the football club. He’s been outstanding, probably our best player this season.
“It was just an unusual error and he will be beating himself up about it. It wasn’t the strongest shot in the world, maybe he just lost concentration, focusing on taking the ball in and where he was going to go with it.
“I thought we did okay in the second half, their goalkeeper has pulled off a couple of saves.
“But we have probably played one of the best teams in the Championship.
“They are set up to counter attack, and they punish you. We have been punished.”
That assessment was correct for even taking into account the poor display by the referee Jeremy Simpson and his assistants, Wednesday were themselves disappointing in the first half.
Without the suspended Chris Maguire, Everton loanee Hallam Hope was given his first Owls start but the striker was ineffective playing in a wide midfield role.
It was no surprise he was replaced by winger Drenthe at half-time, and the Dutchman was key to an improved second-half performance by the hosts.
He and Jacques Maghoma tested former Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes from distance, Gary Madine twice went close with headers. while Glenn Loovens struck the post.
But Wednesday still are crying out for a striker who can sniff out chances, in the mould of Connor Wickham – or even Vydra, pouncing for the third goal on 69 minutes – who could take the Owls from being a mid-table team to a play-off contender.
“I hate getting beat, and it’s another home defeat,” said Gray, whose side have only won once at Hillsborough in six Championship attempts. “We were beaten here by them last season, also.
“But one thing I will say, Watford are probably the best team we have played this season, with the ball.
“They suck you in, but have got players who can quickly get up the pitch and counter-attack.
“We have got to be braver with the ball when things aren’t going right for you. We maybe had one or two players who panicked with the ball in the first half, we have got to pass it, be braver.
“We got into several good positions, but didn’t cross with quality. That took the pressure off them. But I got a response at half-time with the changes, but just couldn’t get the goal.
“I have got to be careful what I say, blaming the officials, but how he can book Roysten for diving in the box, I just do not know. It had to be a penalty. It was a nailed-on penalty.”
Drenthe certainly has undoubted talent and on Saturday’s performance will be pushing to dislodge regular wide men Maghoma and Maguire.
Gray admitted: “Roysten has proven the quality he has got. He gave us a lift and had a couple of shots on goal.
“He hasn’t had a lot of football, he was bombed out at Reading, so we have had to get him fit.
“He will be delighted, as I am, at the 45 minutes he gave us. He has been a little bit unlucky because Jacques Maghoma and Chris Maguire have been playing well.”
Former Chelsea midfielder Hutchinson was making his first appearance since August 19, after being sidelined with a back injury. But his comeback was cruelly cut short and Owls boss Gray is keeping his fingers crossed that the injury to Hutchinson is not too severe.
“We’ll have to see on Sam,” said Gray. “I haven’t had a chance yet to sit down and discuss it properly with the medical team so we’ll have a full assessment on Sunday or Monday.
“He’s gone up for a header and rocked his knee a little when he landed and had to come off.”