The Verdict – Carlisle v Sheffield Wednesday: Owls show fight ahead of Steel City derby

Watching brief:  Jos Luhukay watches from the stands sat between coach Remy Reynierse and Owls chief executive Katrien Meire. Picture: Steve Ellis
Watching brief: Jos Luhukay watches from the stands sat between coach Remy Reynierse and Owls chief executive Katrien Meire. Picture: Steve Ellis
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THE fact that nations had once fought over the border city of Carlisle, a place of immense strategic importance, probably escaped Jos Luhukay as he assembled in his seat at Brunton Park.

Most of the talk, after all, had been on impeding resumption of hostilities between two other traditional enemies this Friday evening when Sheffield Wednesday aim to make a successful cross-city raid at the home of the enemy. A baptism of fire for a new head coach, if there ever was one.

Saturday’s cup occasion may have lacked the white-hot intensity of a seething Steel City cauldron, but the sight of Wednesday showing a bit more stomach for the fight on Saturday, even if some of their weapons are still blunt, was at least a step in the right direction.

The Owls’ dry January may have continued and they have not scored a goal in almost five hours, with a mere one victory having been accrued in their last 11 competitive matches.

But avoiding further ignominy by way of being on the receiving end of a nasty cup shock – when the portents were set fair on that count ahead of kick-off against proud cup fighters of yore in Carlisle – was welcome enough.

As a Scot who probably appreciated the history of Carlisle a bit more than Luhukay, Lee Bullen, in his final game as interim head coach on the touchline, would have suspected that Saturday was never likely to be wholly straightforward.

The nerves did jangle a little late on, when Carlisle, enthused by the fact that Wednesday had failed to put the tie to bed when a more confident side would have, scented a late winner.

But the vast majority of the action which preceded it was in front of the Carlisle goal, with the Owls hitting the woodwork twice and Cumbrians goalkeeper Jack Bonham making one brilliant second-half save to somehow deny Atdhe Nuhiu.

A lack of a breakthrough was frustrating and symptomatic of the way things are going for Wednesday.

At least, there was no need for a flood of tears for those Wednesdayites stood on the Waterworks Terrace and seated in one section of the Pioneer Stand. Embarrassment was averted, at least.

Bullen said: “The players have been great in training and showed the right attitude as coming to a place like Carlisle, you know that they are regarding you as a bit wounded. It could have been very easy to get sucked under.

“I think the fans showed a little bit of appreciation towards that, even though they are still hurting a lot as well.

“We could have gone out with a bit of hangover after the disappointment of the last two performances. But we did not, we actually started the game really well and controlled the first half really well. The second half became a little bit more open, end to end and like a basketball match.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t get the breaks that the overall performance deserved. But I have seen the results and there’s a few disappointing ones for other clubs. We are in the draw, that is the main thing and we have got them back to Hillsborough. I am sure Keith Curle will enjoy that!”

Stick with us, even if it is ugly was the pre-match message from Carlisle manager Curle to home fans in the city’s local paper.

It was a message that could just as easily have been delivered by Wednesday’s hierarchy to the Owls’ 1,916 visiting contingent.

Ahead of the game, a furore about catering at Brunton Park had been a hot topic of conversation among Carlisle followers, but it was clear that this particular tie had the classic ingredients for an upset, with confidence-sapped Wednesday calling in at a venue which has not been traditionally kind to them over the years.

In the event, the visitors displayed the assertion in the first half and if Nuhiu’s first-minute header from Liam Palmer’s fine cross had gone into the net instead of hitting the bar, it could have been a comfortable and perhaps uplifting afternoon.

Bonham also denied Nuhiu after a ball broke into the area, with the hosts, happy to allow Wednesday to gorge on possession, posting minimal attacking threat in the first half.

Their most dangerous opportunity by a distance saw ex-Owls loanee Hallam Hope briefly escape down the right before shooting just wide of Joe Wildsmith’s goal. But it was in isolation.

After piecing together some neat attacking moves and situations in the first half, the Owls showed threat on the restart, with Carlisle, to their credit, imposing themselves in an offensive sense, too, in front of the home faithful in the Warwick Road end.

Wednesday went close when Lucas Joao’s header hit the post from David Jones’s free-kick, and Ross Wallace’s fizzer flew just wide before a relieving offside flag denied Sam Cosgrove at the other end.

It was turning into a proper old-fashioned cup-tie with an outstanding reaction save from Bonham denying Nuhiu, while battling and persistent Carlisle caused a few late flutters with a spell of pressure and with Reggie Lambe testing Wildsmith.

Over to you, Jos.