SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY had grown used to things being alright on the night, as far as matches against Nottingham Forest were concerned.
But on the day which marked the passing of Denis Norden, much-loved host of that popular hit TV show, there was no Owls-themed airing against opponents who had lost their previous seven matches against their Yorkshire rivals – including the previous four at the City Ground.
Without the services of a mercurial code-breaker in Fernando Forestieri – and with Barry Bannan unable to bail out Wednesday after several stellar recent contributions – the magic moment was administered by Forest.
With the match hovering in the balance just after the hour mark with the hosts 1-0 in front, the game-breaking contribution arrived from Forest’s £13.5m headline summer recruit Joao Carvalho.
Having previously provided scant evidence to justify that huge outlay, it was Wednesday’s misfortune that the Portuguese announced himself on the Championship scene with a sublime offering.
Moments after Carvalho was denied by Cameron Dawson following intricate inter-play with Ben Osborn, the same axis combined beautifully with the attacking midfielder firing home a sumptuous curler in front of the ecstatic Trent End.
It ended Wednesday’s hopes of a fifth game without defeat and savouring another golden episode in Nottingham, whose proud title of being the ‘Queen of the Midlands’ lost a little of its allure upon the visitors.
An 88th-minute deflected strike from substitute Steven Fletcher – who struck his first Owls goal since netting against the same opponents just over a year ago – may have tantalisingly hinted at another memorable episode by the Trent.
But Forest – who led at the interval thanks to Lewis Grabban’s first strike for the club – were not to be denied.
Wednesday huffed and puffed, but in a game of wafer-thin margins at times, they passed up a couple of key opportunities in each half.
They were just the sort of chances that Forestieri and striker Gary Hooper – who could continue his comeback with 90 minutes for the Owls’ development squad tomorrow – may not have been so charitable with.
Striking the perfect balance was the mantra for Jos Luhukay and Aitor Karanka in their pre-match musings, with the former particularly anxious for evidence of defensive resolution to compliment a goal count of eight in the Owls’ last four Championship fixtures.
You had to go back to April 28 for Wednesday’s previous clean league sheet, while the problem was of a different variety for Forest, whose burgeoning reputation as draw specialists had seen them end five of their seven league games in stalemate this term.
Wednesday matched up Forest’s 4-2-3-1 formation from the off and it was the prelude to an evenly-matched opening half high on discipline and shape, but low on theatre.
For Luhukay, witnessing a solid, professional – if unspectacular – away-day half will have represented a consoling development, only for the Owls to unfortunately blink in a defensive sense at a key juncture shortly before the break.
A wicked free-kick delivery on the right from Osborn caught Wednesday in momentary strife and Grabban ghosted in to glance the ball past Dawson.
In a tense tussle without a surfeit of chances, it looked like a potentially key moment, with Wednesday spurning their one excellently-crafted opportunity, by contrast.
It arrived 15 minutes in, with Forest momentarily unhinged by quick play from Bannan and Lucas Joao, with Morgan Fox delivering a peach of a left-wing cross which picked out the unmarked Marco Matias, but his point-blank header was wayward and high.
Apart from Grabban’s strike, Wednesday coped comfortably enough with the hosts, with an early scare inside the first 20 seconds – which saw Matty Cash blaze over – not being a sign of things to come. On the restart, the onus was on Wednesday to reacquaint themselves with their attacking instincts.
A leveller looked certain 10 minutes in when Atdhe Nuhiu had a clear sight of goal, only for the striker to fatally hesitate for a split-second, with Jack Robinson making a wonderful saving challenge.
In the context of the game, it was another big moment, moreso especially when Carvalho’s majestic effort effectively sealed the hosts’ victory.
Forest were in the comfort zone for much of the final quarter, but the visitors’ fire was not quite out.
A strike from Fletcher, which took a huge deflection, gave Wednesdayites belated hope, but the night belonged to Forest, for once.
Nottingham Forest: Pantilimon; Janko, Hefele, D Fox, Robinson; Colback (Watson 81), Guedioura; Cash (Dias 72), Carvalho (Lolley 90), Osborn; Grabban. Unused substitutes: Steele, Goncalves, Dawson, Darikwa.
Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson; Baker, Lees, Thorniley (Pudil 73), M Fox; Onomah, Bannan; Matias, Reach, Joao (Fletcher 71); Nuhiu. Unused substitutes: Wildsmith, Hector, Kirby, Preston, Pelupessy.
Referee: T Harrington (Cleveland).