Brentford 3 Sheffield Wednesday 3
IT was a case of deja vu for Sheffield Wednesday as once again they tossed away a lead to concede twice in the last 10 minutes against Brentford.
Ten-man Bees came from behind to snatch a 2-1 win at Hillsborough just before Christmas with late strikes from Deon Burton and Alex Rhodes.
They repeated their late show on Saturday, mugging the Owls who had been coasting at 3-1 with 10 minutes left.
First Ryan Peters struck for Brentford with eight minutes to go, then Stephen Hunt slammed in a stoppage-time leveller in the 93rd minute.
The difference between the two sets of players could not have been more marked on the final whistle; Wednesday’s slumped to their knees in bewilderment while the Brentford players and backroom staff lapped up the crowd’s astonished applause as if they had won the FA Cup.
Conceding late goals – and important ones, like Owen Morrison’s stoppage-time winner for Bradford City a fortnight earlier at Hillsborough – is becoming a worrying tendency for Wednesday.
Manager Paul Sturrock will be tearing his hair out after again watching his more senior players fail to take the game by the scruff of the neck and show their experience to run down the clock.
Case example on Saturday: Glenn Whelan carried out a crunching tackle to win the ball in his own half with about a minute left, but with time and space to check his runners, he played a blind ball straight back to a Brentford player, who crossed for the equalising goal.
It marred an otherwise tidy game for the Irish Under-21 star. The only saving grace for Wednesday was that their play-off rivals failed to make up ground on them, but second-placed Hull’s victory means automatic promotion hopes are almost certainly over.
With 11 games remaining, the Owls are six points clear of Swindon Town in seventh place.
Wednesday had started with passion and good tempo, taking the lead on four minutes after Steven MacLean’s knock down fell invitingly for strike partner Lee Peacock to hammer home from the edge of the penalty area.
Peacock doubled his side’s advantage on 41 minutes when his deft touch from Jon-Paul McGovern’s cross squirmed out of Ademole Bankole’s grasp and into the net.
A 2-0 scoreline was harsh on the hosts, and maybe that was the reason Wednesday’s defence seemed to be dozing, giving Burton too much time and space to fire home an immediate riposte from the edge of the box.
With Sturrock’s words ringing in their ears, Wednesday started brightly in the second half with Lee Bullen heading home from a corner after Peacock flicked on at the near post.
Things started to go wrong for the visitors, however, when Peacock departed to be replaced by James Quinn. Gone was the target man who could hold the ball up, and the front two of Quinn and MacLean could not retain possession long enough to ease the pressure which mounted from Brentford’s late rally.
Every time the ball crossed the halfway line it seemed to be returned quickly, and with interest. Just as at Hillsborough two months ago, Wednesday failed to show the resolution needed to keep their lead and allow Brentford to escape with a point.
It was a cruel way for Joey O’Brien to end his three-month loan spell from Bolton, the teenage midfielder honoured with the captain’s armband for the day as a thank-you for his service to the Owls.
Sturrock has lost five first-teamers from an already thin squad over the last month with loan signings O’Brien, Kenwyne Jones and Adam Green returning to their Premiership clubs, Guy Branston joining Oldham on a free transfer and striker Adam Proudlock ruled out for the season injured.
The manager will spend this week scanning the transfer market in an attempt to bring in a couple of fresh faces before next month’s deadline.
With O’Brien’s departure, Wednesday are desperately short of a midfielder and need a striker who can share the workload of front pairing MacLean and Peacock.
Brentford: Bankole, O'Connor, Sodje (Dobson 45), Turner, Salako, Tabb, Talbot (Pratley 70), Hutchinson, Hunt, Rankin (Peters 54), Burton.
Sheffield Wednesday: Lucas, Bullen, Lee, Wood, Heckingbottom, McGovern, O'Brien, Whelan, Brunt, MacLean, Peacock (Quinn 80).
Referee: M Thorpe (Suffolk).
Owls man of the match: Lee Peacock.