Sheffield Wednesday 0 Ipswich 1: Irvine disappointed at Owls defeat

THE TRANSFER window has effectively closed at Sheffield Wednesday. Manager Alan Irvine has spent the last few quid available for new players and supporters are asking whether it is going to be enough to save the Owls from the drop.

On the evidence of the last two games, the answer is 'no'.

Irvine needs, arguably, another two new players to get the Owls out of their current rut but his hands are tied by a shortage of funds.

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Chairman Lee Strafford loosened the purse strings to enable Irvine to sign Republic of Ireland international defender Eddie Nolan ahead of this defeat against Ipswich Town.

But now, unless another club is minded to take a Wednesday player on loan, there will be no further room for manouevre.

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Officially, the Football League allow emergency loan signings until 5pm on Thursday March 25. However, Irvine is well aware of the economic pressures at Hillsborough and regards Nolan's signing as his last throw of the dice.

"Everyone knows the financial position at the club and this was money the club could have done without spending," he admitted. "It is money the club doesn't really have to spend so I am grateful for the fact we have been able to do it

"I know how hard the chairman worked to make sure that we had the money to bring in Eddie," he added. "So I am not anticipating being able to do any others."

With no sign of new investors charging over the horizon, Strafford is already pleading with Owls supporters to renew their season tickets before March 8.

Maybe, just maybe, if enough do commit early (without knowing the fate of the current campaign), it will allow Irvine to strengthen again.

The Owls still have seven games to play prior to the transfer deadline and another seven beyond that. According to Irvine, another six wins are still needed to guarantee survival

Ipswich leap-frogged the Owls in the bottom six thanks to this victory but Crystal Palace's late defeat to Coventry prevented a drop into the relegation zone. Palace, however, have a game in hand and are only a point behind the Owls.

"We have to work harder and not feel sorry for ourselves," said Irvine. "If we feel sorry for ourselves, we will have a huge problem. We need to concentrate on getting those six wins and the sooner, the better."

A 15th-minute goal from Ipswich winger Carlos Edwards settled Saturday's game at Hillsborough and means the Owls – who had won five of Irvine's first seven games in charge – have now lost three of the last four.

It was the Trinidad and Tobago international's first goal since joining the Tractor Boys 13 months ago in a 1.35m deal from Roy Keane's former club Sunderland.

The Owls improved before half-time and Marcus Tudgay struck the crossbar with a snap- shot from the edge of the penalty area.

Ipswich goalkeeper Brian Murphy then blocked a shot from Michael Gray before Tudgay appealed in vain for a penalty when pushed in the back by Gareth McAuley.

But striker Daryl Murphy hit the bar for Ipswich just before the interval and Jon Walters had a late header disallowed for pushing. Just as in the midweek game with Doncaster Rovers, there could have been no complaints from the Owls if the margin of defeat had been greater.

Irvine remains 'confident' that his players have enough ability to survive in the division but still has to discover whether they have the mental strength to match.

"Everything is great when you are winning and it is a lot easier to play," he said.

"It is when you lose a couple of games that you see what the real character and personalities of the players are."

Both Richard Hinds and Etienne Esajas made their first starts under Irvine but failed to take advantage of their opportunities.

Defender Hinds replaced skipper Darren Purse – who will be out for two to three weeks with a hamstring injury – winger Esajas replaced Tom Soares who was out-of-sorts in midweek.

Nolan, a defender who can play anywhere across the back, sat on the bench – and will undoubtedly be a strong contender for next week's trip to Reading.

When Jermaine Johnson, Lewis Buxton, Tommy Miller, Francis Jeffers and Purse recover from injuries the Owls will have a far stronger side.

Until then, however, Irvine will have to keep relying on players who are low in confidence and short on competition for their shirts – and that does not bode well in a relegation scrap.

Sheffield Wednesday: Grant; Simek, Hinds, Beevers, Spurr; Esajas (McAllister 81), Potter, J.O'Connor, Gray (Clarke 62); Tudgay, Varney. Unused substitutes: Boden, Jameson, Palmer, Soares, Nolan.

Ipswich Town: Murphy; Wright, McAuley, Delaney, S.O'Connor; Colback, Norris, Leadbitter, Edwards; Walters, Murphy (Wickham 90). Unused substitutes: Lee-Barrett, Balkestein, Healy, Quinn, Counago, Peters.

Referee: M Russell (Hertfordshire)

MATCH FOCUS

Hero: Gareth McAuley

The Northern Ireland international was a colossus at the back for Ipswich, winning everything in the air against Owls strikers Tudgay and Varney.

Villain: Etienne Esajas

Got his first start since the arrival of Owls manager Alan Irvine but showed nothing like the spark he has displayed at other times this season. One horrible pass nearly gave the visitors a second goal.

Key moment: 15th minute

Carlos Edwards punishes slack marking in the Owls midfield to hit an unstoppable 25-yard shot.

Ref watch: Mike Russell

Kept the game under control. Might have awarded a penalty to the Owls when Tudgay was pushed by McAuley.

Verdict

Three defeats in four games have reignited Owls' fears of relegation. Ipswich may be out of the bottom three but are still firmly in the relegation scrap.

Next game

Reading, away, Saturday February 27, Championship

Quote of the day

I might buy him some coke and crisps on the way home!

– Ipswich manager Roy Keane praises teenager Shane O'Connor on his debut.

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