Sheffield Wednesday’s nearly men were at it again last night.
At least on the club’s most pressing issue, manager Garry Monk was doing his best to look relaxed in his pre-match press conference, but how long before his team considers becoming a registered charity?
For the fifth game running, the Owls deserved victory, and did not get it. At least thanks to Kadeem Harris’s second-half strike they avoided the defeat that, from nowhere, had started to look a distinct possibility.
Until his goal prompted a frantic finale, it was all a bit flat on a wet Wednesday night in Sheffield, but the Owls had much the better of the game in front of their 22,059 fans.
Massimo Luongo was one of four changes to the side, and much of the best football went through him, such as the 17th-minute move which saw him play in Morgan Fox. The left-back’s cross bounced off Fletcher to safety. It summed up their opening half-hour.
By and large, Wednesday restricted themselves to long-range efforts, Luongo hitting a defender, Barry Bannan blazing over, Fletcher steering Dominic Iorfa’s knockdown wide. A Bannan corner had Connal Trueman scrambling across his goal, but his heart-rate soon returned to normal when it dropped the safe side of his far post.
Julian Borner’s sliding tackle brought cheers from a crowd who minutes earlier had been groaning at the recalled Adam Reach’s overhit cross. It went some way to making up for the German’s earlier suspension-earning booking for pulling back Jeremie Bela. Borner made way for captain Tom Lees at the interval.
There would be more groans to come.
Considering how wet it was, and that Cameron Dawson was back in goal for only his fourth start of the season, you might have expected Birmingham to make more of an effort to test his handling, but they could not.
Bela’s dribble past a couple of defenders was less a warning, more an aberration. He dragged his shot wide.
Fran Villalba’s first shot was miles off target and while he became the only visiting player to manage an effort on target in the 29th minute, it was never going to trouble Dawson, slippery ball or not.
Gradually Wednesday upped their threat level.
Bannan played Kieran Lee through in the 34th minute, but Trueman came off his line to win the duel.
A lovely Fletcher backheel did not get its just desserts when the man he picked out, Fox, hit the latest Owls cross off target. Before Birmingham could properly get the ball clear, though, Moses Odubajo – given his chance at right-back by Liam Palmer’s suspension – cut in on his left and thumped a shot against the bar.
Despite all that, it was the away fans who were chanting, “Garry, what’s the score?” at the start of the second half, biting back on behalf of their “disloyal” caretaker manager Pep Clotet after Monk’s tongue had sharpened in his pre-match comments.
The Owls were still the safe side of their halfway line when they gave the ball away sloppily in the 48th minute, but the Blues worked the ball out to the right, Daniel Crowley finding Bela, whose cross was neatly turned in at close quarters by Alvaro Gimenez.
Wednesday briefly lost their composure, Bannan mystifyingly heading a Lees clearance back into danger, only for Gimenez to waste the opportunity which came his way.
Monk threw on Fernando Forestieri and the less subtle Atdhe Nuhiu to try to make a difference and the former in particular instantly gave his side more of a cutting edge, curling a shot wide after a good run down the inside left channel, mimicking the reactions of plenty in the stands.
Harris sent their emotions all over the place, drawing groans when he could only pick the goalkeeper out from an excellent crossing position shortly after the opener, then cheers until supporters realised his shot had not ruffled the side-netting in the way they had hoped.
There were howls of frustration when he shot wildly after 82 minutes, but within seconds they had turned to cheers of delight, the winger driving at goal and into the net. It was only their second shot on target of the night.
From there the Owls pushed hard, Lees heading at the keeper, Trueman saving from Nuhiu, and in the fourth added minute Lukas Jutkiewicz getting Luongo’s goalbound header away in some increasingly desperate defending.
Once again, the Owls had sold themselves short.
Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson; Odubajo, Borner (Lees 46), Iorfa, Fox; Reach (Nuhiu 67), Lee (Forestieri 58), Bannan, Luongo, Harris; Fletcher. Unused substitutes: Pelupessy, Murphy, Hutchinson, Jones.
Birmingham City: Trueman; Colin, Roberts, Clarke-Salter, Pedersen; Sunjic, Bellingham (Davis 82); Crowley, Bela (Montero 70), Villalba; Gimenez (Jutkiewicz 66). Unused substitutes: Camp, Harding, McEachran, Bailey.
Referee: P Bankes (West Sussex).