Lacklustre Sheffield Wednesday could have cost Lee Bullen his big chance
Having beaten Rotherham United in the Carabao Cup with a last-gasp winner in midweek, you might have expected the Owls to harness that momentum and burst out of the blocks on their return to Hillsborough, where they had won two from two this term.
It did not happen.
Having taken the lead midway through the first half via Steven Fletcher, thanks to a rather generous penalty award for an apparent foul on Fernando Forestieri, you might have expected Wednesday to kick on and take control against a club who tend to find it tough going on the road.
It did not happen.
Having then seen the game turned on its head by two goals in the space of four second-half minutes by the impressive Jordan Hugill, the home fans might have expected a reaction from their team and a rousing finish.
Neither of those things happened.
There was no spark, no-one willing to take the game by the scruff of the neck, no-one able to impose themselves at the back, in midfield or in attack.
Captain Tom Lees had pulled out of the game in the warm-up due to a hamstring issue but there were no excuses for such a timid display.
Wednesday have gone off the boil after winning their opening two league games and, afterwards, interim manager Bullen pulled no punches about his side’s latest performance, or indeed lack of it.
The Owls have got a fortnight to lick their wounds before returning to action at struggling Huddersfield Town.
Having now lost three of their last four games in the Championship, the international break may have come at a good time. A chance to take stock, rest and reinvigorate.
Whether the two-week break has come at a good time for Bullen remains to be seen.
It may now become a window of opportunity for owner Dejphon Chansiri to appoint a new manager and take things in a different direction.
Bullen’s post-match interview certainly painted a picture of a man fearing that his dream job is slipping away from him.
To his credit, there was no attempt to gloss over what he had just witnessed. He could not.
Rangers were full value for the three points, refusing to let their heads drop following Fletcher’s 23rd-minute spot kick, fashioning the better attempts on goal and playing in a confident manner throughout, a style which suggested they were at one with manager Mark Warburton’s strategy.
Bullen had switched from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 to accommodate Forestieri, making his first start of the season, but that allowed the visitors’ three-man midfield to find space and get on top for the majority of the contest.
The most eye-catching performance came from young Moroccan midfielder Ilias Chair, while battering-ram Hugill provided a focal point and successfully managed to wind up his opposition players and fans with his gamesmanship.
Rangers successfully snuffed out the threat of widemen Adam Reach and Kadeem Harris.
Even the ever-reliable and often brilliant Barry Bannan was subdued.
When Rangers did get their noses in front, their excellent game management rounded off a professional away day performance.
Bullen later switched to 3-5-2, introducing Massimo Luongo, Jacob Murphy and Atdhe Nuhiu, but there was to be no big finish.
This game might have turned out very differently had Wednesday been more ruthless once they had taken the lead and moved up through the gears.
But, in truth, chances were thin on the ground – Wednesday managed just two shots on target – and it was the visitors who always looked more likely to score the game’s second goal.
Keiren Westwood had made two good saves to deny the lively Nahki Wells either side of the break but he was powerless to prevent Hugill’s equaliser on the hour mark.
Wells picked out the on-loan West Ham United striker with a peach of a pass and Hugill tapped home after rounding the Wednesday goalkeeper.
Four minutes later, the Owls found themselves behind. Rangers broke quickly down the left and Ryan Manning’s cross was clinically poked home by Hugill, despite cries from the terraces that the goal-scorer was stood offside during an earlier phase of play.
Harris cut inside and blazed a shot high and wide as Bullen’s men huffed and puffed in response.
Nuhiu then really ought to have converted from close range following Bannan’s deep cross but could only divert his shot high into the Kop.
Bullen was left to reflect on a bad day at the office – and left to hope that he will have the chance to rectify it next time out at the John Smith’s Stadium.