Hillsborough, less than a third full for the visit of a Carlisle United side sitting 44 places below the Owls, welcomed Jos Luhukay with plunging temperatures and a snowstorm that barely let up all night.
At one stage, Luhukay, motionless on the touchline with hands tucked deep in pockets for much of the proceedings, looked in danger of being turned into a snowman as the arctic Yorkshire weather turned nasty.
Come full-time, however, the new Wednesday chief cut a contented figure after watching his opening night on home soil end with the securing of a place in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Goals from Marco Matias and Atdhe Nuhiu, largely forgotten figures under Carlos Carvalhal, were enough to book a home tie with Reading on Friday, January 26, and extend an impressive record against lower-league opposition at Hillsborough.
Not since Middlesbrough beat the Owls, then in the old First Division, in February, 1992, has a team from a level below got the better of Luhukay’s new employer – a run that stretches back 19 ties.
As with the other four Yorkshire clubs through to the fourth round handed home advantage in the draw, the tie against Jaap Stam’s Royals, convincing victors over Stevenage at the Madejski last night, is eminently winnable.
It means a season that has been a crushing disappointment in S6 could yet be set for the drama and excitement that accompanies a prolonged run in the FA Cup.
Only time will tell on that but Luhukay can be pleased with his first few steps as Owls manager.
Having earned a point from last Friday’s Sheffield derby despite playing the final quarter with ten men, the Wednesday chief inspired another decent display from a team featuring eight changes. This overhaul in personnel rather negated Keith Curle contacting former club United for the lowdown on their Steel City rivals during the build-up to last night’s replay. Certainly, Matias is unlikely to have featured too prominently in any scouting reports that spent derby week sitting on Chris Wilder’s desk.
The Portuguese striker’s two-and-a-half years at Hillsborough has been dogged by injury and loss of form; playing time in the Championship this term amounts to just 53 minutes.
Maybe Luhukay’s arrival can herald a change of fortune. He certainly looked the part in the Hillsborough snow against Carlisle, the cool finish that broke the deadlock shortly before the half-hour neatly encapsulating an impressive night for the 28-year-old.
Nuhiu created the opening with a flighted ball over a static defence that Matias latched on to before beating Jack Bonham with a first-time finish. Nine minutes later, Matias, following a lovely exchange of passes with Nuhiu, again opened up the Cumbrians only for Bonham to pull off a fantastic save. Bonham again rescued Carlisle just before the interval, getting down to his right smartly to get a hand on George Boyd’s first time shot.
This time, Matias had been the creator with a powerful run down the right that he followed by picking out Boyd with an inch-perfect pass. He wasn’t the only Owl to impress Luhukay, with Connor O’Grady and Frederik Nielsen slotting neatly into the three-man defence that the Dutchman had retained from his first game in charge.
Neilsen, a Danish youth international, cut an imposing figure on debut, while O’Grady was assured on the ball in his first appearance at Hillsborough.
Never was this more apparent than during the flowing move that led to Boyd’s drilled shot being saved shortly before the break, O’Grady having provided the early impetus by racing forward 30 yards with the ball before spreading play to the right flank.
Nuhiu, now in his fifth season at Hillsborough and starting for the 92nd time, also did his hopes of a bigger role in the next few months no harm at all.
His goal midway through the second half was exceptional, the Owls striker curling a shot past Bonham after skipping inside challenges from Gary Liddle and Tom Parkes.
The tie was over, especially as by then Carlisle’s best moments had become a distant memory.
Twice, Richie Bennett was presented with openings he was unable to take. Jamie Devitt, once of Hull City, and Shaun Miller did have late efforts saved by Cameron Dawson but this was a comfortable home bow for Luhukay.
Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson; O’Grady, Venancio, Nielsen; Hunt, Jones (Reach 79), Butterfield, Boyd, Fox; Matias, Nuhiu. Unused substitutes: Wildsmith, Rhodes, Palmer, Joao, Wallace, Pudil.
Carlisle United: Bonham; Liddle, Ellis (S Miller 67), Parkes, Brown (O’Sullivan 64), Grainger; Jones, Joyce, Devitt, Lambe, Bennett (Hope 58). Unused substitutes: Bacon, Nabi.
Referee: M Salisbury (Lancashire).