Escape for Owls after heavy rain brings an early bath

STUART GRAY admitted Sheffield Wednesday benefited from a “get out of jail card” when last night’s clash with Wigan Athletic was abandoned due to a waterlogged pitch.

Jermaine Johnson in action for Sheffield Wednesday

The FA Cup holders were 1-0 ahead when referee Keith Stroud called a halt following a monsoon-like deluge that left the Hillsborough surface covered in huge puddles.

Gray and Latics counterpart, Uwe Rosler, felt the official had got the decision spot-on with both admitting they were concerned for the safety of the players as they splashed around in almost farcical fashion after half-time.

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Wednesday’s caretaker manager Gray said: “It was a get out of jail card for us because we didn’t play well and were obviously behind.

“But he got the decision right. It had become a lottery out there. Player safety has to be the most important thing. The ball was sticking in the water.

“I know that can be amusing for the supporters but you have to think of their safety. In the warm-up, the ball was sticking and I thought, ‘If there is a deluge, we could have a problem here’.”

Heavy rain had been falling on S6 since about an hour before the 7.45pm kick-off.

For the duration of the first half, though, this didn’t seem a problem with the Hillsborough pitch seemingly having no trouble in dealing with the excess water.

All that changed, however, five or so minutes into the second half when a deluge left the surface covered in huge puddles.

Suddenly, even the simplest of tasks – such as passing the ball along the floor – had become impossible and referee Stroud called a brief halt to hold a discussion with fourth official David Storrie.

After 30 or so seconds, play resumed but it was not to last with Stroud eventually being persuaded that an abandonment was the only option when a string of puddles checked Nick Powell’s clear run on goal before the Manchester United loanee’s attempted shot squirmed comically up in the air.

Even the 200 or so Wigan fans in a crowd of 22,615 laughed at that miss but those Lancastrian smiles soon turned to frowns as Stroud signalled the game could not go on.

Latics manager Rosler said: “I have no complaints. There was so much water on the pitch that Nick Powell couldn’t take the chance when through one-on-one.

“The referee had come over a little bit earlier and said he would give it another four or five minutes to see if the rain stopped. But, obviously, it didn’t and the Nick Powell situation was the last straw.

“I thought the referee was very good.

“The more rain that came, the more water came on the pitch and he made the right decision.

“I might have felt worse, though, if we had taken the chances to score three or four more goals. But we didn’t and even though we have a tough programme and that the game not finishing was a blow, I felt the decision was the right one.

In the play that was possible, Wigan were by far the better side.

Despite just two of the team that won the FA Cup in May being in the starting line-up last night, Uwe Rosler’s men looked every inch a team with silverware in the trophy cabinet as they ran Wednesday ragged.

Such was the visitors’ dominance that they really should have had more to show for their efforts when play was halted than a 23rd minute strike by James McClean.

An almighty mix-up in the Wednesday defence that saw Roger Johnson fire an attempted clearance straight at a team-mate created the opening.

But, after that, the goal was all about McClean as he raced clear before drilling an unstoppable shot past Damian Martinez.

That should have been the prelude to a flurry of Wigan goals but, instead, some desperate defending plus profligate finishing spared Wednesday’s blushes.

Another blunder by Roger Johnson, the defender this time clearing the ball straight to James Perch, handed Powell a chance he really should have taken instead of firing straight at Martinez.

It was a major let-off for Wednesday, though a warning they singularly failed to heed as Seyi Olofinjana was caught dawdling in midfield by Powell.

As the ball was moved out wide to McClean, who then picked out the unmarked Stephen Crainey, Wednesday looked like paying the price for the Nigerian’s carelessness only for the left back’s resulting shot to hit the side-netting.

Wigan’s dominance continued after half-time as, first, Gomez was denied by Martinez and then Powell’s surge towards goal was halted by a succession of puddles.

That was enough for referee Stroud to signal the game was up and the two sides will have to meet again later in the season.

The concern for the Owls now is Saturday’s home game with Bournemouth. Gray added: “Obviously, the ground staff will have their work cut out.”

Sheffield Wednesday: Martinez; Palmer, Roger Johnson, Glenn Loovens, Reda Johnson; Kieran Lee, Olofinjana (Nuhiu 46), Semedo, Helan (J Johnson 46); Wickham, Maghoma. Unused substitutes: Kirkland, McCabe, Mattock, McPhail, Llera.

Wigan Athletic: Carson; Perch, Barnett, Rogne, Crainey; McArthur, Watson, McCann, McClean; Gomez (Shotton 55), Powell. Unused substitutes: Al Habsi, McManaman, Espinoza, Beausejour, Keane, Fortune.

Referee: K Stroud (Hampshire).