IT IS not just one footballing half of the Steel City which is in rude health at the start of the new season.
Sheffield Wednesday’s near-neighbours may be basking in the glow of life back in the top-flight, but should the Owls afford themselves a cursory glance at the Championship table which currently sees them occupy top spot, a tantalising sense of promise will be evident even at this early juncture.
Over the past few campaigns, Tuesday nights at Hillsborough have been relatively rewarding for Wednesday, whose last league loss occurred in March 2018 and that pattern continued, even if the hosts were far from at their best – particularly in the first half.
Luton quickly assumed the box seat, but failed to cash on in their superiority and for all of caretaker manager Lee Bullen’s ‘Mr Nice Guy’ demeanour, he may have just been tempted to issue a few home truths at the interval and display a darker side.
If he did, it certainly worked in a second period which saw Wednesday noticeably increase the intensity levels, crowned by Kadeem Harris’s close-range winner on 54 minutes.
Jacob Murphy, so impressive alongside Harris in the previous home game with Barnsley, seized on a Luton mix-up with his floated right-wing cross headed across goal by Steven Fletcher.
Harris showed instincts usually associated with a striker to score his second goal for the Owls from close range.
A mixed bag from Wednesday, but a third win in four league matches is the more meaningful statistic this morning, with Bullen doing his claims to land the full-time position no harm at all on a testing night that can separate the managerial wanabees from the contenders.
Victory was all the more valuable, given the first-half events.
Canvass the opinions of managers laden with Championship know-how and they will opine that coming out in credit after navigating testing schedules of three league games in the space of a week represents a bit of an art form.
Still a comparative novice in terms of frontline experience as a ‘No 1’ he may be, but rest assured that Bullen will be fully aware of the fact and a winning reaction after the weekend loss at Millwall has put the Owls in a handy place ahead of Saturday’s trip to Preston.
Yet it was Luton, whose starting line-up included four Yorkshire-born players, who had provided plenty of encouragement in their opening Championship salvos. So on-message, incisive and quick-thinking in their previous home outing against another promoted side in Barnsley, Wednesday were something resembling the opposite 10 days on.
That the half remained goalless was at least a blessing, with Wednesday – who changed their full-backs from the weekend with Moses Odubajo and Morgan Fox brought in – off the pace for significant spells, even with Barry Bannan back in the midfield hub.
Harris and Murphy were nullified by an attentive Hatters side wise to their dangers, with the visitors spurning a glorious chance to take an early lead when Ryan Tunnicliffe fired over after a polished four-man move unhinged the hosts.
After his weekend error, Keiren Westwood suffered another nervy moment when his poor clearance was latched onto by Andrew Shinnie, whose shot was tipped over in the nick of time by the backtracking Owls custodian.
Sonny Bradley also headed a good chance over, with Wednesday’s best moment in a flat opening coming early on when Harris’s precision curler was beaten away by Simon Sluga.
It was the sort of low-key home performance that Wednesdayites thought had been vanquished to the past, but the second period brought new hope as the Owls attacked their favoured Kop end.
The tempo was noticeably quicker than the first 45 minutes as Bullen stalked the touchline.
His anxiety soon turned to joy when Harris struck the opener from close in, with the relief palpable at a hitherto frustrated Hillsborough. Luton’s conviction failed to match their first-half efforts, although Wednesday had a scare when Harry Cornick’s deflected effort flew wide.
A trademark far-post header from Fletcher – enjoying plenty more joy than he did in the first period – went close to sealing it, shortly after an offside flag curtailed his celebrations after he netted from close range.
Murphy then headed over after express work down the left from Harris, with centre-backs Tom Lees and Julian Borner, forging a trustworthy early-season partnership together, kept things on lock-down at the other end.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood; Odubajo, Lees, Börner, Fox; Hutchinson, Bannan, Reach (Winnall 78); Murphy, Fletcher (Luongo 85), Harris (K Lee 88). Substitutes unused: Dawson, Rhodes, Bates, Forestieri.
Luton Town: Sluga; Cranie (Bolton 59), Pearson, Bradley, Bree; Butterfield (Mpanzu 74); Shinnie, Tunnicliffe, Lua Lua (Brown 69), Cornick, Collins. Substitutes unused: E Lee, Moncur, Jones, Shea.
Referee: D Webb (Co.Durham).