Verdict - Sheffield Wednesday 1 Ipswich Town 2: Owls' woes mitigated by rivals also falling to defeat

A YEAR on from the exaltation of a significant home victory over more East Anglian visitors, the emotions could not have been more contrasting for Sheffield Wednesday last night.

Collared: Sheffield Wednesdays Jacob Butterfield is grabbed by Ipswich Towns Callum Connolly.
Collared: Sheffield Wednesdays Jacob Butterfield is grabbed by Ipswich Towns Callum Connolly.

Some 367 days after an exhilarating 5-1 demolition of Norwich City that rekindled their promotion dream in front of a euphoric home support, the Owls endured an episode of deflation, pain and angst against more opponents from out east.

For those who know their Wednesday history, it will not have constituted a surprise that Ipswich have administered another blow to a season that has been bruising and excruciating.

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Or that Mick McCarthy was resident in the away dug-out, either.

The laconic Yorkshireman has learned to enjoy his visits to S6. After 26 years in management he is yet to sample a defeat in nine appointments at Hillsborough, while Ipswich have not lost in this quarter of Sheffield in their past nine meetings too.

He was indebted to two goalscoring contributions from Martyn Waghorn, with his brilliant whipped free-kick winner seven minutes from time portraying a marksman with confidence replenished after earlier ending a 15-match goal drought.

By contrast, the self-belief that manager Jos Luhukay spoke about the hosts needing to rediscover after a weekend battering at Bristol City was largely deficient on another barren evening that did nothing to extinguish fears of a grave late-season relegation battle.

Waghorn’s brace inflicted a fifth successive defeat in all competitions upon Wednesday, for the first time since late 2012, intensifying the pressure on the hosts’ boss Luhukay ahead of Saturday’s home encounter with Bolton Wanderers, very much a ‘must win’ fixture.

Despair for Owls' Morgan Fox. (Picture: Steve Ellis)

It was another unconvincing, nervy and pretty bereft performance from the hosts, with the main solace provided by the fact that most of the sides below Wednesday also lost. But this was hardly a cause for celebration.

The only fleeting on-pitch inspiration was provided by Lucas Joao, who scored for the fourth successive league game at Hillsborough after coming off the bench at the break for the ineffective Jordan Rhodes, with the decision to start with the £8m striker backfiring.

Sensing the need to freshen up his side, Luhukay made six changes following the debacle at Ashton Gate with the emphasis very much on experience.

The hosts headed in at the break with no concessions, with central defenders Tom Lees and Glenn Loovens – starting together for the first time since the reverse fixture in November – afforded few alarms. It proved a false dawn.

Despair for Owls' Morgan Fox. (Picture: Steve Ellis)

Further forward, the cohesiveness was suspiciously lacking in a sterile half in which there was a dearth of quality from either side.

Wednesday did conjure two dangerous moments, with comfortably the best chance spurned shortly before the half-hour by Atdhe Nuhiu, whose point-blank volley yielded a smart reaction save by Bartosz Bialkowski after Aaron Webster’s poor clearing header.

Nuhiu also saw a goalbound strike deflected just off target before the break after a rare flowing move.

But it was almost entirely unconvincing stuff from the hosts, with the main animation coming from McCarthy in his technical area.

A few home jeers at the interval was at least sweet music for Ipswich, whose sole first-half chance saw Cameron Carter-Vickers rifle a shot just wide.

The Nuhiu and Rhodes axis lasted just 45 minutes, but while the appearance of Joao was a welcome one, the sight of Ipswich taking the lead following some pitiful defending was far less so.

Freddie Sears got away down the right and and his centre was headed across goal by Callum Connolly and Waghorn obligingly turned the ball home from close in, with the home defence AWOL.

It was a horrible concession and it almost got worse with the unchecked Sears again afforded far too much space with his lob finding Connolly, whose point-blank header was brilliantly tipped over by Joe Wildsmith.

Wednesday desperately sought hope and, after Nuhiu stabbed wide, it came from Joao, who danced past Webster after latching onto David Jones’s pass before steering the ball coolly past Bialkowski for his seventh of the campaign.

But the Owls could not kick on and it was left for Waghorn to provide the fateful blow, showing sublime technique to curl home a beauty following Morgan Fox’s foul.

Sheffield Wednesday: Wildsmith; Lees, Loovens, Fox, Palmer, Jones, Butterfield, Boyd, Reach; Rhodes (Joao 45), Nuhiu. Unused substitutes: Dawson, Pelupessy, Pudil, Preston, Abdi, Venancio.

Ipswich Town: Bialkowski; Carter-Vickers, Chambers, Webster; Spence, Hyam (Ward 74), Skuse, Connolly, Knudsen; Carayol (Sears 25), Waghorn (Garner 89). Unused substitutes: Crowe, Iorfa, Celina, Gleeson.

Referee: O Langford (West Midlands).