Cheltenham Town 2 Sheffield Wednesday 2: Last-gasp Gregory salvages a point as Owls show bottle in frenzied finale

JUST a fortnight ago, Sheffield Wednesday's progress around the League One circuit was looking as imperious as Galopin Des Champs' recent masterclass on Gold Cup day at the nearby Cheltenham Racecourse.

A few hours after the Willie Mullins' trained horse won so handsomely on March 17, the Owls' own serene journey would be checked in a home draw against Bolton and they have since hit two flights of hurdles hard en route to defeats at Barnsley and Forest Green.

Heading into the final few furlongs of an increasingly lively looking race for automatic promotion, Wednesday and Plymouth Argyle are entitled to be wary of two form horses in Ipswich Town and Barnsley who have been coming up on the outside.

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Just a mile away from the home of National Hunt racing, the Owls were assigned with kicking for home again at Whaddon Road, with Barnsley's stumble at Exeter on Tuesday night providing an opportunity to put some significant distance between themselves and one of the chasing duo in particular.

Sheffield Wednesday defender Reece James tussles with Cheltenham danger man Aidan Keena. Picture: PA.Sheffield Wednesday defender Reece James tussles with Cheltenham danger man Aidan Keena. Picture: PA.
Sheffield Wednesday defender Reece James tussles with Cheltenham danger man Aidan Keena. Picture: PA.

Going into the final quarter, it looked like they suffered another bruising hit in Gloucestershire three days on from their wretched offering at the New Lawn as they deservedly trailed 2-0 after quick-fire goals mid-way through the half from the outstanding duo of Aidan Keena and ex-Doncaster Rovers striker Alfie May, who led their backline a merry dance.

But Wednesday dug deep and showed the stamina, strength and character of a stayer to rescue a point in a remarkable second-half and frantic finale.

They nearly won it with Will Vaulks hitting the post with the last kick of the game. Instead had to settle for a point after goals from substitute Aden Flint - his first in Owls’ colours - and Lee Gregory, with the latter levelling three minutes from time. They would have taken a point after 75 minutes, for sure.

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No return to the top of League One maybe and a fourth successive game without a win, but it could have been much worse. In wretched weather, they did not chisel out three points, yet still got at important one in another helter-skelter draw in the Cotswolds after last season’s similarly eventful 2-2 draw, which also had late drama.

Headline team news saw David Stockdale handed his first league appearance since December 10 and Wednesday were indebted to the presence in a difficult first half which saw May and Keena cause significant issues.

A sole effort on target at the break, with Vaulks’s dipping shot tipped over just before the interval, told its own story with Wednesday’s execution and final options in the last third being poor.

Cheltenham looked a side boasting ten points from their previous 12, but they reckoned without the presence of Stockdale.

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May - a real pest in the first half when he was given licence to roam and cut inside with dangerous effect from both sides - signalled his intentions with a fine early curler, which was tipped away expertly by Stockdale.

He did damage cutting inside from the opposite right flank later on in the half and Stockdale - who had turned away Kenna’s point-blank shot shortly before - was again equal to task to turn away May’s drive.

Stockdale also denied Tom Bradbury following Will Ferry’s free-kick later on in the half with the Owls custodian forced into major work unlike his Robins counterpart, who was rarely extended.

Wednesday had a bit to ponder again at the break.

The torrential rain relented at the start of the second half, but Wednesday’s sell-out following were more concerned about seeing a change in what they were witnessing on the pitch, attacking their followers in the Hazelwoods Stand.

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They were almost on the feet when some much-needed quality saw Reece James's cross from the left pick out Smith in front of goal, but his header was turned away from point-blank range from Luke Southwood when it should have been nestling in the net.

Vaulks soon tested Southwood as the Owls started to up it in what was an absorbing spectacle, despite the elements.

Then the fun began. Dominic Iorfa's hash of a clearance found Keena, who made no mistake and while May soon missed a chance to add a second after another blooper from the Owls defender, he was not to denied - netting a rebound after Taylor Perry's shot was turned away.

Flint - Iorfa's replacement - changed the narrative, heading in Bannan's free-klck. Wilks and Gregory missed chances before the latter had his moment, from Smith's low centre. The breathless action continued at both ends and Wednesday showed a fighters' heart.

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Cheltenham Town: Southwood; Long, Taylor, Bradbury; Jackson (Perry 27), Rea, Sercombe (Raglan 89), Broom, Ferry; Keena (Goodwin 80), May. Substitutes unused: Williams, MacDonald, Barkers, Olayinka.

Sheffield Wednesday: Stockdale; Iorfa (Flint 66), Palmer, James; Hunt (Adeniran 90+1), Vaulks, Bakinson (Wilks 73), Bannan, Johnson; Smith, Gregory. Substitutes unused: Brown, Famewo, Dele-Bashiru, Dawson.