Friday, 10 February 2017

Sheffield Wednesday 3 v Birmingham City 0 - EFL Championship

Friday 10th February 2017
SkyBet EFL Championship
at Hillsborough Stadium
Sheffield Wednesday (1) 3
Jordan Rhodes 9, Sam Winnall 80, Adam Reach 86
Birmingham City (0) 0
Admission £33 Programme £3
Attendance 24,805
That there Sheffield Wednesday sure pull out all the stops to create an atmosphere in the countdown to their games at Hillsborough, belting out loud music over their public address system and encouraging the home fans all to join in, in noisy unison.
It works very well and it was definitely a very catchy number that the home fans were bouncing about and singing along merrily in time to.
I can't actually recall exactly which song it was, because I was too engrossed in scribbling down a few pre-match observations about the night's football, to be taking much notice of anything else, but I'm almost sure that it was something by Pinky & Perky.
The form:
Prior to tonight, Sheffield Wednesday hadn't lost at home to Birmingham City since 2006, when Steve Bruce was still the visitors manager and his side overcame Brian Laws' Owls 3-0.
I hear that Bruce is now working for a smaller club in the West Midlands area... and struggling to keep a sinking ship afloat while he's at it.
When these two sides last met in the Championship, back in September, the Owls took a seventy sixth minute lead through Gary Hooper; but Blues overturned the deficit late in the day and won the game 2-1, courtesy of goals from Clayton Donaldson and the in form Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Last Saturday, twelfth placed Blues, picked up their first win under Gianfranco Zola against Fulham at St. Andrew's; it was the new(ish) manager's 11th game in charge.
To say that the joy and relief at having ended a ten game run without a win, was evident both on and
off the pitch at the end of the game is something of an understatement.
The place was rocking.
Granted, it was only one win and that must be taken in context, to give the result some perspective; but the longer that Zola's 'settling in' period carried on in an unsatisfactory manner, results wise, the bigger the flock of vultures circling his short reign in charge was becoming... more often than not, that gathering was gaining momentum on that there t'interweb, rather than actually in the skies, or the stands for that matter.
Such is the modern technological age and the 'culture' of faceless keyboard warriors.
Y'know where you can find them all: Facebook, Twitter and all of those ten a penny Blogs written under pseudonyms ;-)
Incidentally, of the six goals that Birmingham have put away during Zola's tenure, five of them have been scored by Jutkiewicz. Who was actually kept quite quiet tonight, by a Wednesday back line, who had obviously earmarked as the visitors pivotal front man.
Yeah, just mooch around pitch-side with your camera, nobody will mind.
Wednesday went into tonight's game sat sixth in the Championship table, nine points ahead of their visitors (with a game in hand); but Carlos Augusto Soares da Costa Faria Carvalhal's side had only won one of their last seven games, since their impressive Boxing day result at St. James' Park, when they beat Newcastle United 1-0.
Birmingham didn't fare quite as well as that, when they had visited Newcastle a couple of weeks before Wednesday's win in the North East.
Sam Winnall and Jordan Rhodes have both arrived in Owlerton, Sheffield S6 (for the record, that's where Wednesday got their nickname from) recently, to boost Carvalhal's teams fire power as they look to build up a head of steam towards a serious tilt at the promotion play offs, in spite of having the second lowest goals scored total of any of the top ten clubs (until tonight).
Pre match viewing on  the North Stand concourse TV screens
A couple of weeks ago, when driving home from a game, I happened upon a BBC Radio Sheffield football phone in, called 'Praise or Grumble', and from listening to some of the irate Wednesdayites who called in, I can only assume that the anthem they've been singing about their Portuguese manager since last season: "Carlos had a dream", was recently changed to "Carlos is having a bloody nightmare!"
But I don't understand the purported logic behind their disenchantment. Carvalhal has addressed their lack of goals with what could turn out to be two really good signings over the past few weeks (as they showed tonight), to appease the outspoken disenchanted faction of Owls supporters, who hold on steadfastly to the belief that their club is 'massive' and punching well beneath it's weight at this present time.
As misapprehensions go, this particular one is what can only be described as, err... massive!
Might I suggest that still hanging on in there, in a play off position, nearly half way into February, is actually a very decent position for a team of Wednesday's actual status and real standing in the grand scheme of things to be in.
Tonight's result flattered the home side somewhat, as they were pegged back by Birmingham for long spells and way too reliant on hitting long balls out from their last third to keep Zola's side at bay.
But defensively they looked structured and very well drilled. Whereas what was ultimately a smash and grab raid of a win, came via two headed goals that Blues (Reds if you must) makeshift back four (who had performed so heroically at the weekend) struggled to deal with and a third knockout blow of a goal, on the counter attack, after Wednesday had been gifted a break from a misplaced pass.
Did Wednesday deserve to win though?
Personally, I think that they did; but only just. because the margin of victory didn't really reflect the balance of play.
The Owls started the game well leading up to Rhodes goal and battled well to  contain the visitors and limited their clear cut opportunities for a good while.
When Rhodes opened the scoring he ran over to celebrate with his dad Andy, who was on the Owls bench, he is their goalkeeping coach.
It was a great family moment apparently, but if it was up to me, I would've booked him for time wasting, so he can count himself lucky that I wasn't refereeing. Just saying ;-)
It was his first goal for Sheffield Wednesday. It definitely won't be his last.
As an aside; Rhodes also scored for Middlesbrough in a 2-2 draw at St. Andrew's back in April.
Hey you guys! Who is picking Rhodes up?
Birmingham were forced into committing players forward as they chased the game late on, Carvalhal's team exploited the space that was afforded them to the max and punished an individual error by Stephen Gleeson, which saw Adam Reach surge forward and plant the ball past Kuszczak to give the final score a lopsided look and nail the door shut on any slim lingering hopes that the visitors might have harbored about staging anothe late comeback against the Owls.
Also, the quality of the two crosses that the home side scored their first two goals from, delivered by Ross Wallace and Jack Hunt respectively, can't be ignored as a contributing factor to Birmingham's downfall.
Zola's players probably deserved something out of the game for their efforts, but not all three points as he himself has suggested in his post match comments, even though Blues hit the woodwork three times... well twice to be pedantic, because Sam Hutchinson turned the ball against the right hand post from Craig Gardner's cross and almost netted an own goal in the first instance, before Emilio Nsue crashed a shot against the left post shortly afterwards. In the second half Gardner was unlucky to see his long range shot hit the crossbar and moments later, against the run of play, Winnall netted Wednesday's second goal, with a well executed diving header, for what his fourth strike against Blues this season, having scored for Barnsley in both of their games against tonight's visitors.
It was his first goal for Sheffield Wednesday. It definitely won't be his last (Part 2).
What the Blues manager really should have been saying is, 'We need to start being ruthless in attack and we are short of cover at the back'.
Because goals win (and lose) games, not eye catching geometry, slick movement and quick passing in and around that huge swathe of the pitch that isn't actually near either goalmouth.
Gardner stood out for the visitors, his range of passing and tenacity was central to everything that was good about Birmingham's performance tonight; but as of yet, they still look like a work very much in progress, struggling to get beyond the embryonic stage.
In development football, where youngsters are learning their trade, picking up all of the right habits and improving their skills and acquiring a broader understanding of the game, winning is of secondary importance.
But the transition that Zola's side is undergoing isn't a practice session or coaching lesson; this is the first team, competing in the men's game in the real world, in a results driven industry.
As regards chasing any silverware at the end of this term, Wednesday dived headlong back into the thick of it tonight, following a few inconsistent weeks results wise, but, although a good few of my friends in the Birmingham area won't want to hear this; I suspect that the light went out on their season tonight. They simply have too much to do now to make up ground on the play off pack and the best that they an really hope for now, is that they pick up enough points not to slide towards the trapdoor end of the table and that they finish above Aston Villa... but given their local rivals current form, the latter aspiration doesn't amount to very much.
Towards the end of the game, a friend who was watching the game on Sky TV, in the comfort of his warm front room, texted me to ask how I could justify paying £33 to 'watch this crap!?'
1) Football supporters should never have to justify why they watch football matches.
2) With the Premier League and pay per view television suffocating the life out of clubs outwith the top flight, how can anybody justify shelling out a whacking great big monthly fee, to subscribe to the root of most of football's ills?
I actually paid £66 anyway. Because I took 'our lass' with me too.
My missus comes from a family of Sheffield Wednesday fans and she now likes to visit Hillsborough every year and sit in that particular part of the ground, as a mark of respect to two of her relatives who passed away far too young, a few years ago, who frequented that end of the North Stand. Thankfully, she has had all of her jabs and wasn't inflicted by the same mental illness that drives other people among her kinfolk to support the Owls. It was a lucky escape I reckon.
Birmingham displayed some eye catching and enjoyable tippy tappy football. Even though they weren't quite as dominant as their manager seems to believe they were.
Possibly this bodes well as an indicator of the shape of things to come, but a lot of their aesthetically pleasing stuff was played in areas that wasn't troubling their hosts. You can always live in hope that Zola's blueprint will take off, but this is the Football League Championship and every team in this division needs to adopt a horses for courses philosophy, to achieve the required results, from time to time.
So one needs to ask the pertinent question. Do the Birmingham City players need to adapt to Zola's way of thinking pretty damn soon, or does he need to adapt his game plan to realistically compete at this level?
Wednesday won by a flattering scoreline, but in doing so they demonstrated that you can play all of the fancy and intricate stuff that your heart desires, but when goal scoring opportunities come along, you must seize the moment and finish them off.
The Owls certainly took all three of their goals very well and though they didn't play at a high tempo throughout, their patient approach paid off and the double hammer blow in the final ten minutes couldn't have come at a better time for them.
FT: Sheffield Wednesday 3 v Birmingham City 0
Blues are next in action when they face Preston North End at Deepdale on Tuesday night, they then face Queens Park Rangers at St. Andrew's next Saturday.
Wednesday entertain Blackburn Rovers at home on Tuesday night, before travelling just down the M1 to take on Nottingham Forest on Saturday.