Baby steps but Sheffield Wednesday running out of time and games

Slowly but surely, Darren Moore is seeing signs of improvement at Sheffield Wednesday.

Sheffield Wednesday boss Darren Moore congratulates Norwich City's Kieran Dowell as Tom Lees walks off in despair.    Picture: Steve Ellis
Sheffield Wednesday boss Darren Moore congratulates Norwich City's Kieran Dowell as Tom Lees walks off in despair. Picture: Steve Ellis

Problem is Wednesday’s need is urgent.

The Owls acquitted themselves admirably against Norwich City, taking the game to the runaway leaders in the first half and earning a deserved lead through Jordan Rhodes’s early strike.

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But there was an air of inevitability about how the second half would unfold and sure enough, Teemu Pukki and Todd Cantwell – players of Premier League standard – showed no mercy with their finishing.

Jordan Rhodes celebrates his goal. Picture: Steve Ellis

These two teams are likely to be two divisions apart next season, but to Wednesday’s credit, that never looked justified out on the pitch.

Yet for all the positives, all the green shoots of promise under Moore, the reality is stark.

Wednesday remain seven points adrift of safety with 11 games remaining. They have lost seven straight games, the last three of those under Moore.

“We’ve just gone toe to toe with the leaders,” argued Moore.

Norwich City's Teemu Pukki scores their side's first goal.

“Credit to the players, they’ve gone about it the right way.

“Slowly but surely I see signs.

“Short-term we just need that win to get this going and from there I think the momentum will turn.

“I still believe we can do it. I have to be confident.”

Certainly he can take heart from the first-half performance, even if the second half pointed to a team that had no answers when Norwich moved through the gears.

Moore is determined to find those answers and will continue to tinker with how he sets his team up until he does. And even then, he revealed afterwards, his strategy in the run-in will be to negate opponent’s strengths, rather than impose their own will on a game, to allow Wednesday the best chance to claim three desperately-needed points.

Against Norwich he set up with three at the back and recalled Keiren Westwood in goal.

From that platform Wednesday made an excellent start, one that could have been even better.

Josh Windass was played in behind by Adam Reach’s pass, his chest cushioned the ball in between two defenders and towards goal but Ben Gibson bundled him over.

A full Kop would have bayed for a red card but as it was, referee Tony Harrington went with yellow, mindful of the fact another defender could have closed the situation down.

Wednesday didn’t let it ruffle them though and although Barry Bannan’s free-kick hit the wall, Joey Pelupessy’s follow-up ricocheted around the area until it found Rhodes eight yards out and he calmly side-footed the ball home.

“Such a calm and composed finish,” said Moore. “That’s the man you want the ball dropping to.”

The strong start gave the Owls confidence and their first-half performance was their best for some time.

Rhodes looked like his old self, darting in front of defenders and using his body intelligently to hold up the ball and win free-kicks.

Kadeem Harris from right wing-back and Liam Palmer on the other flank got forward as often as they could; the former jinking past three on one foray in from the flank and firing straight at Tim Krul.

Pelupessy never let Norwich’s playmakers settle and Sam Hutchinson dropped into a three-man defence alongside Tom Lees and Osaze Urhoghide that looked resolute.

Their build-up play was neat and tidy if a little lacking in the creation of clear-cut chances.

Wednesday were restricted to efforts from distance; Reach presented with the best of them when the ball broke to him 20 yards out but his effort was too central for Krul.

Norwich showed little urgency but when they did, they looked dangerous; Pukki creating space to get in a shot that Lees did well to read and block.

It was a portent of things to come, though.

Half-time gave Daniel Farke an opportunity to fire a rocket up his players and Wednesday 15 minutes to wonder if they could replicate their first-half performance.

They couldn’t, so they dropped back and Norwich advanced.

Cantwell and Emiliano Buendia threatened from behind Pukki but it was the latter who provided the Premier League quality.

Thwarted by Lees in the first half, Pukki would not be denied again and when the ball broke to him 15 yards from goal on the angle, he struck a venomous shot past Westwood.

Another one shortly after flashed wide before the winning goal arrived on 77 minutes. It was harsh on Wednesday, Josh Windass’s surge away from trouble cut short and then Palmer was agonisingly a toe poke away from stopping the ball reaching Cantwell, but from there it was sumptuous, the Canaries midfielder curling a wonderful strike beyond Westwood.

“First half we got the details right. Second half Norwich pinned us back and we didn’t use the ball as well as we could,” lamented Moore, who saw 
Pelupessy have the Owls’ only shot on target late in the second half.

“We started the game on the front foot, and I thought we gave as good as Norwich gave in the first half.

“It was two excellent finishes from two high quality players.

“But we’ve got to move forward and take the positives.”

It was baby steps for Wednesday when they need giant strides.

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