Sheffield Wednesday stay in hunt after Lee Gregory treble at Fleetwood Town
At 2-1 down with the clock ticking down, Darren Moore told Saido Berahino to get ready to come on, his last throw of the dice.
Then Lee Gregory decided he had had enough.
Twice within a matter of seconds he found the net, completing a hat-trick and taking his tally in the last seven games to seven goals. Sheffield Wednesday are so lucky not just to have him, but to have got him fit and firing for the run-in after a foot injury.
The 3-2 win his goals reflected the flow of the game, but for a long time you wondered if it was coming as an Owls side who showed too much charity defensively lacked the ruthlessness to turn possession into something more tangible. With a finisher of Gregory’s quality on the pitch, there is always a chance though.
Having put their supporters through the wringer, the Owls clambered back into fourth in League One ahead of Saturday’s final round of matches. The job of reaching the play-offs is not done, but it is a step closer.
A quarter of an hour in it looked a question of how many the Owls wanted against relegation-threatened Fleetwood Town but they created a bit of drama with some dozy defending.
It took just four minutes for Wednesday to take the lead, Gregory taking a Jack Hunt pass into his feet, rolling Toto Nsala and producing a precise finish in front of the packed away end for his fifth goal in seven games.
The visitors then took control, looking at their most threatening when they got the ball wide, especially down the left, where Barry Bannan was often drifting.
George Byers thumped wide after a great touch around the corner by Marvin Johnson, who then got to the byline and played in Gregory. The centre-forward’s shot looked to be going wide before it hit a defender.
Johnson whipped over a cross his fellow wing-back Hunt could not quite stretch to.
But when the bright, low sun dipped below the low Memorial Stand, Wednesday showed the Fleetwood team kicking towards it a way back into the game.
The pitch was perfect, but only for growing potatoes on, rutted and with thick grass, not the sort of surface to be faffing around on.
It made Jordan Storey’s touch to open things up an even poorer choice and when Callum Camps drilled his shot, Bailey Peacock-Farrell could not stretch far enough to keep the equaliser out.
Wednesday were rattled, Bannan chastising Massimo Luongo for overhitting a long pass to him down the left rather than taking the simple option.
Before long the Captain Pugwash theme tune was playing again as the Owls conceded their customary set-piece goal, Hunt not close enough to Joe Garner as former Hull City midfielder Dan Batty swung in a free-kick. It was the 18th set-piece goal the Owls have conceded this season.
It prompted what Moore described as “a few choice words” at the interval.”
At 2-1, Wednesday steadied themselves and took back control but luck was not in their side in the 38th minute.
Bannan cut inside from a Johnson pass then checked out to loft a lovely shot against the far post. Callum Paterson’s effort from the rebound hit the crossbar and although the clearance was only scrambled as far as Gregory, he could not quite make anything of it.
When Hunt’s brilliant turn was followed by a cross Paterson could not quite reach, you wondered if it was going to be one of those nights.
The start of the second half only increased that feeling, Wednesday continuing to dominate the ball but without getting enough to show for it.
Within seconds of Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Josh Windass being throw on from the bench, Bannan had picked out the former and when his cross was cut out, the latter shot wide. Bannan had a tame shot at the goalkeeper.
It took an excellent defensive header from Garner to deal with Windass’s cross.
It looked like more was needed, but as Berahino stood on the touchline ready to come on Liam Palmer surged down the left. His cross was cut out to Massimo Luongo, who put it onto Gregory’s head.
Before anyone could draw breath, Gregory drilled in his hat-trick goal.
With more than a quarter of an hour left there was still time for another twist but Paterson’s shot dragged wide the most noteworthy moment of it.
With 82 points, Wednesday should have done enough to have secured automatic promotion but they still have a job to do at home to Portsmouth on Saturday.
Doncaster Rovers will have to wait until Saturday to be less sent, more put down.
Fleetwood Town: Cairns; Nsiala, Clarke, Jules (Harrop 87); Macadam, Batty (Pilkington 77), Boyle; Andrew; Camps; Garner, Hayes. Unused substitutes: Butterworth, Biggins, Baggley, Bird.
Sheffield Wednesday: Peacock-Farrell; Storey, Hutchinson, Palmer; Hunt, Byers (Windass 62), Luongo, Johnson (Mendez-Laing 62); Bannan; Paterson, Gregory (Dunkley 89). Unused substitutes: Wildsmith, Gibson, Kamberi, Berahino.
Referee: C Boyeson (East Yorkshire).