Sheffield Wednesday beat Barnsley at their own game

Debut delight: Jacob Murphy celebrates his early strike on his first Owls appearance. Pictures: Steve Ellis
Debut delight: Jacob Murphy celebrates his early strike on his first Owls appearance. Pictures: Steve Ellis
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A POST-MATCH airing of the Style Council’s classic anthem ‘Shout To The Top’ will have rarely sounded so delightful for Sheffield Wednesday supporters as they filtered away from Hillsborough.

Just under a month ago, the mood music after Steve Bruce upped sticks for Newcastle United was rancourous by comparison, but harmony is rapidly being restored thanks to the calming influence of a figure who bleeds blue and white in Lee Bullen.

Game over: Steven Fletcher hits home the second goal.

Game over: Steven Fletcher hits home the second goal.

Following his recent actions, Bruce will be viewed as ‘persona non grata’ by Wednesdayites for ever and a day, but there has been at least one consequence of his exit that has benefitted his former club.

A few words from the Geordie helped tip the scales for Owls loanee Jacob Murphy to head to South Yorkshire as opposed to rival second-tier destinations when the Newcastle United winger decided on his next move.

A goal two minutes into his Wednesday career will have further vindicated that choice on an afternoon which ended with the hosts looking down on all others from the Championship summit.

Ahead of this derby, all the talk was of wind-ravaged conditions. The weather may have behaved itself, by and large, but the high-velocity performances of Murphy and fellow winger Kadeem Harris in particular went down a storm.

It is a perfect start and settled my nerves and I enjoyed everything from then on.

Loanee Jacob Murphy on his early debut goal.

On a dream debut, Murphy –promoted to the starting line-up due to a calf injury to Barry Bannan – said: “I scored on my league debut before (for Norwich City). It is a perfect start and settled my nerves and I enjoyed everything from then on.

“Kadeem’s performance was also excellent and it gives us those different dynamics going forward – pushing forward with pace like that is going to put teams under a lot of pressure.”

On Bruce’s input in his move, he added: “He got on the phone and said he’d recommend me to come here and thought it was a good move for me.

“We had a brief conversation and he said really good things about the club.”

For Barnsley, the Hillsborough torment goes on – you have to go back to November, 1979 for their last Saturday win at the famous old stadium and the introspection on the short trip back up the A61 will have felt pretty familiar.

Almost exactly 12 months to the day, the Reds found rival Yorkshire soil rather more fertile by virtue of a 2-0 success at Bradford City in their first away appointment of 2018-19.

But the Championship is a wholly different entity.

Days like Saturday will occur for a kindergarten Barnsley line-up, whose juvenility is their biggest strength, but conversely, their main weakness as well.

Fulham may have been shocked by the vitality of Daniel Stendel’s side seven days earlier, but Wednesday – with hardened nous in the spine of their team in the likes of Steven Fletcher, Sam Hutchinson and Tom Lees – were far more streetwise.

It delivered a home victory where the margin of victory would have been more emphatic had it not been for the performance of goalkeeper Sami Radlinger.

Radlinger, who made key saves to thwart Adam Reach and substitute Massimo Luongo, said: “If you don’t wake up from the beginning and you are not 100 per cent there, it is always hard to come back especially here in Sheffield. They played it very clever after that and that is why we lost.

“We will always learn from losses and we will analyse this game together as a team and see which mistakes we made and what we can do better as a team.

“I made a few saves and was happy, but that is not the first thing. I am sad about the loss.”

It was an occasion when the gas and gegenpressing came from the hosts. Bullen referred to Wednesday beating Barnsley at their own game and it was the most succinct observation on the day.

Wednesday hassled and harried Barnsley at the start of each half in particular with ferocious intensity and cast doubts in Reds defenders’ minds as they continued to try and play out from the back in somewhat risky and unconvincing fashion.

Yes, Barnsley enjoyed fair swathes of possession, but they were also pretty toothless.

They only briefly convinced in a short spell before half-time when Mallik Wilks drilled wide from the sort of position on the left that he loves and Cauley Woodrow was denied by the fine reactions of Cameron Dawson, but it was Wednesday who displayed the authority.

The tone was set in the second minute when a loose pass from Cameron McGeehan ended with Murphy coolly steering the ball home, with the loanee and fellow winger Harris comfortably outshining rival wingers Wilks and Luke Thomas on the day.

No further goals arrived in the first period, but a smart second wrapped it up on the hour when Fletcher crowned a masterful show with an unerring low finish.

It was the precursor to a comfortable final half-hour, with the fact that the hosts performed as they did without the talisman influence of Bannan making Saturday all the more laudable.

His replacement in Murphy had particular reason to smile, as did his twin brother Josh, who helped Cardiff beat Luton just over 200 miles away.

Murphy added: “My dad came to watch me and my mum went to Cardiff to watch Josh.

“Once I get a signal on my phone, I think he (Josh) will say a few words. There is no real competition between us, we are always there to encourage each other and we are each other’s biggest fan.”

MATCH PANEL

Good day: Jacob Murphy

His smile lit up Hillsborough after his second-minute strike and he and fellow winger Kadeem Harris served up a treat for Wednesdayites.

Bad day: Cameron McGeehan

Poor square pass provided Wednesday’s opener on a plate and delivered a dream moment for debutant Murphy, a former Norwich City academy team-mate.

Key moment: 45th minute

Cameron Dawson earns his keep with a super point-blank save to deny Cauley Woodrow. The importance was referenced by Lee Bullen.

Ref watch: Tony Harrington

Aside from failing to punish Mads Andersen for a clumsy push on Murphy in the area, the official had a sound enough day.

Verdict

Barnsley handed a masterful lesson in Championship ringcraft by a smart and slick Owls, who suddenly look abundant with energy and dynamism. Youthful Reds will have days like this in their education.

Next game

Millwall v Sheff Weds, C’ship, Saturday, 3pm; Barnsley v Carlisle, EFL Cup, tomorrow, 7.45pm.

PLAYER RATINGS

Sheff Weds

Dawson 7

Odubajo 7

Lees 7

Borner 7

Palmer 7

Lee*** 8

Hutchinson 7

Reach 7

Murphy* 8

Fletcher** 8

Harris 8

Substitutes

Pelupessy* (74)6

Rhodes** (77)6

Luongo*** (80)-

Not used

Jones

Fox

Nuhiu

Forestieri

Barnsley

Radlinger 7

Sibbick 5

Diaby 6

Andersen 6

Cavare 6

Mowatt*** 6

McGeehan 5

Thomas 5

Bahre* 5

Wilks** 5

Woodrow 6

Substitutes

Chaplin* (61)6

Thiam** (62)6

Styles*** (77)6

Not used

Collins

B Williams

Halme

Miller