ONCE famous for being the hub of northern soul music, a trip to Wigan had a wholly different gravitational pull for Sheffield Wednesday followers last night.
You suspect that a thrill-seeking contingent of 2,548 Wednesdayites got their initial wish with the sight of the headline act who they were hoping to see stride out from the off in Jordan Rhodes.
Afforded star billing, Rhodes did provide one crucial contribution, but in the event, it was an assist as opposed to his stock in trade of a goal that helped bail out Wednesday.
Ross Wallace profited from a flick from Rhodes two minutes before the break to maintain his own hot streak with a third goal in four matches to help the Owls move back into the top six – a rare chink of light in a dreary evening.
As has been their wont for swathes of this season, Carlos Carvalhal’s side showed their functional side with yet another workmanlike victory that lacked stardust.
But given the tightening up in the current bidding for the final play-off spot, he would point to the requirement for three points superceding the need for style marks.
While Wednesday lacked fluidity in a desperately poor televised spectacle as opposed to the night before when Huddersfield Town beat leaders Brighton & Hove Albion, the more damning indictment lay in the lap of a Wigan side, whose lack of attacking punch was worthy of rather more censure.
Aside from victory, a plus point for the Owls arrived in a disciplined showing from a much-changed back four that was minus the injured Tom Lees with Vincent Sasso making a rare start.
That drew attention on the teamsheet along with the stand-out selection of Rhodes, with the fact that he got just his third full game under his belt so far this season also being a positive.
It was a night when the striker, heralded in song just seconds into the game, had little to feed off, but his assist will have provided him with a reason to feel enthused given his six months in the wilderness at Middlesbrough. It is nice to feel wanted after all.
A scrappy, low-grade first half that left a lot to be desired was sadly replicated by a similarly forgettable second half, but Wednesday had ample consolation with Wallace’s deflected close-range effort breaking the tedium with a scruffy goal, fittingly.
Wallace latched onto Rhodes’s flick-on following Sasso’s long ball and his attempted lob over the advancing Jakob Haugaard took a significant deflection off the covering Jake Buxton before looping into the net.
It was the sole moment of genuine animation in a lifeless half in which Rhodes barely touched the ball.
For their part, Wigan seemed happy to break up play and keep in their shape, perhaps viewing a point against a promotion-seeking Owls side as a step in the right direction, with a tame long-range strike from Sam Morsy, comfortably fielded by Kieren Westwood, being all they could muster in an offensive sense.
Wednesday also lacked craft, with a chorus of ‘Attack, Attack’ on the half-hour summing up the frustration of away fans who headed over the Pennines with rather more expectation.
Their sole effort, aside from Wallace’s strike, was a drilled effort from Adam Reach that flew wide, but the interval score at least made for more pleasurable viewing than the first-half action.
The second-half onus was firmly on the Latics to show more ambition and intent and belatedly Westwood was forced into action to block bravely Morsy’s effort as he bulldozed his way into the box.
It was not the precursor to a spell of dominance, with the best they could muster seeing two half-chances fall to a defender in Dan Burn.
First, his header was easily held by Westwood before he blazed over with Adm Reach showing a similar lack of composure at the other end in keeping with a dire spectacle.
Owls were happy to sit on their lead, yet despite their relative comfort, the scoreline still rendered the visitors’ strategy as risky.
They almost paid for their unwillingness to go for the jugular on 75 minutes when substitute James Weir – signed on loan from Hull City on deadline day – headed over with the goal at his mercy following Michael Jacobs’s excellent cross.
Despite some late pressure, an impotent Wigan side could not find a way to achieve parity.
Wigan: Haugaard; Connolly, Buxton, Burn, Warnock; MacDonald; Perkins (Weir 67), Power, Morsy, Jacobs; Grigg (Bogle 67). Unused substitutes: Gilks, Kellett, Tunncliffe, Morgan, Hanson.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood; Hunt, Loovens, Sasso, Pudil (Semedo 90); Wallace (McManaman 56), Jones, Bannan, Reach; Forestieri (Abdi 81), Rhodes. Unused substitutes: Wildsmith, Winnall, Palmer, Nuhiu.
Referee: Stephen Martin (Staffordshire).