RAMBLE: Wednesday -v- Fulham

RAMBLE: Wednesday -v- Fulham

Somewhat like a forgotten gas bill, this game came out of nowhere for me.

Unforeseen circumstances meant I had missed the Blackpool game; those who are more deserving got to Rotherham tickets before me, and this week I found myself re-arranging so I’m now missing Wolves away.

I’m also rather snowed under with work (boo-hoo) so football is largely off the brain.

Wednesday have been in fairly good fettle of late while Fulham cannot buy a win away from home.

Fairly straightforward wins at struggling Millwall and Blackpool sandwiched a terrific performance against Middlesbrough and an underwhelming showing against Blackburn. Three wins from four arrested a late winter blip and, alongside good noises at boardroom level, have given the whole club a lift.

As for Fulham, a goalless draw at Millwall aside, they’d lost six of their last seven.

Sign him up?

Sign him up?

Despite a couple of injuries the Wednesday side was largely predictable. Lewis McGugan, and particularly his ability to carry this ball through midfield, have given us fresh creative impetus while his goal-scoring secured the points at Blackpool and set us on the way at Millwall.

At the back, Claude Dielna partnered Tom Lees, who came up against Ross McCormack and Matt Smith – two players who he spent time with at Leeds.

THE MATCH

We’ve had a few non-event halves of football to take in at Hillsborough this season. But if the fact that Fulham forced a change of ends at the toss remains a memorable moment, it’s clear we’re talking of a half bereft of… well, anything.

So Wednesday attacked the Kop during the first half, but yet again started a game slowly. I think we can forgive the side to some extent.

We have to be careful in blaming the state of the pitch for every sub-standard facet of our play. The standard of the surface has no effect on the desire to win second balls or make physical challenges, for example.

However, it isn’t conducive of good football. There’s certainly no chance of setting any form of tempo on it, at least in possession.

Not the weather for cultivating?

Not the weather for cultivating?

How do we make the pitch an advantage? Play long, take the problem out of the game, and hope it’s off putting for good sides? We’ve tried to do this in several games recently.

Against Middlesbrough it was to better effect, but on Saturday, with Atdhe Nuhiu looking wearisome and Will Keane ineffectual before the pitch claimed him as another victim, we fashioned very little in the first period.

Our opponents put up a much better defensive effort than I thought possible: perhaps Michael Turner’s influence alongside the promising Shaun Hutchinson helped calm any nerves in their back-line.

Both centre halves largely out-muscled the Wednesday forwards while the screening of Tunnicliffe and Parker denied both space and the chance to play (bobble) the ball into the feet of our front-men.

Fulham adopted a similarly long approach and, like Wednesday, struggled to fashion anything thanks to Matt Smith’s frequent habit of jumping just under the long ball.

Wednesday had two attempts on goal, but not before we lost both Keane, and earlier Liam Palmer to ankle injuries.

Palmer’s looked the more serious of the two as he was carried off on the stretcher; Gray later revealed that both players had their standing legs caught in the mud.

Dielna challenges Smith

Dielna challenges Smith

If a pitch that limits the quality of football is intolerable, then a surface that injures our own players has to be immediately addressed. Dejphon Chansiri has already committed £1m to the necessary improvements.

Back to the game, and those two Wednesday chances, the first of which fell to Maguire who shot straight at Bettinelli from 20 yards, before a tame effort from Stevie May was again parried by the Fulham ‘keeper following a Nuhiu knock-down.

HALF-TIME: WEDNESDAY 0-0 FULHAM

My life, that was dull.

After another showing of the country’s most needlessly difficult half-time challenge, and the second performance of the University’s dancers (spoiler: that’s one win, one draw now – much better than the torrid record suffered under the DJ era community dance troupe!), I think we were all ready for some proper entertainment – stop laughing at the back!

The second half, mercifully, was much better.

Vermijl’s introduction had added a bit of life down our right hand side and a little more urgency in central midfield began to open spaces for Lewis McGugan.

On 53′, McGugan’s tidy pass fed Kieran Lee, whose scuffed cross found Stevie May; the Scot managed to claw the ball under control by flicking it over Turner’s head before shooting straight at a second defender. Corner.

McGugan’s initial delivery was excellent, and well defended by Fulham: the covering defender forced Tom Lees’ effort back out to the Watford loanee, who found a second terrific cross. This time May was able to get ahead of his defender and nod it to the far corner.

Glad to see him back in the goals...

Glad to see him back in the goals…

GOAL!

A goal! From open-play(ish)! GET IN!

It had been a poor game to this point, but our second half improvement had edged us ahead.

I was really pleased for Stevie May who must feel much better having heard Hillsborough sing his name again.

Wednesday continued to press and really should have had another: firstly Vermijl carried the ball forward from an Owls freekick – his low drive was well saved by Bettinelli. Shortly after, another McGugan corner found Atdhe Nuhiu unmarked: his header was powerful and had it been directed to either side would have surely seen the Owls move two-up.

Wednesday sat off on the hour mark and perhaps could have done with a midfield replacement for McGugan or Hutchinson. Neither player is 100% fit and, as the game became stretched, a defensive change would have benefited the Owls.

This is not the detriment of the management who would have been rightly cautious of making the final change so early.

Life’s a pitch!

McGugan tussles for possession

McGugan tussles for possession

Wednesday conceded a very poor equaliser with fifteen minutes left.

A lofted ball over the top was seemingly defended with the minimum of fuss as Tom Lees pushed his man wide. The ball found Cauley Woodrow in the centre who fell under the slightest of contact from Marnick Vermijl.

As the Fulham players screamed for a penalty, and Wednesday stopped for a dive, the ball rebounded to Matt Smith who lashed home from six yards to draw level.

The club record eighteenth clean sheet evaded us for another day. Deservedly, in truth. I can think of a few occasions where individual errors have cost us in games; but here, the six Wednesday players inside our box ALL stopped as Woodrow went down.

“Mid-table sides get mid-table results”, I wrote in a ramble around this time last year. Here it was a case of a mid-table defence making a mid-table mistake.

Smith turns home the equaliser

Smith turns home the equaliser

The remaining fifteen minutes saw a period of relatively frenetic, open football that saw Fulham come close to sealing an undeserved victory. A sensational headed clearance by Claude Dielna, a quick-reaction save from Kieren Westwood and two blocks from Tom Lees – one of exceptional quality to deny Ross McCormack – all kept the scores level.

As for Wednesday, Atdhe Nuhiu had the offside flag to thank for sparing his blushes. A tidy Vermijl cross found the number nine six-yards from goal, his prodded effort beat Bettinelli but skimmed the top of the cross-bar when he absolutely should have hit the target.

The official on the North side perhaps saved Nuhiu from an angry vocal tirade.

All in all, 1-1 was probably fair.

FULL TIME – WEDNESDAY 1-1 FULHAM

A few positives, first: Lewis McGugan’s form has been terrific. Although our passing game was again limited by the cabbage patch, our loan man dictated any tempo we did create and his ability to effectively move the ball across the pitch has given us a new option going forward.

Tom Lees and Kieren Westwood again saved us a point with their work at the end of the game. Needless to say, they have been our best players this season by some distance.

A few negatives: The pitch taking two victims to the physio’s room has seen the issue move on from being a nuisance to actively costing the club. Will Keane has grown into some form on his loan spell, and Liam Palmer, despite some perhaps under-developed attributes, remains a key asset of the club. Injuries in his youth put pay to that, to some extent.

The recall of Caolan Lavery is frustrating; his time at Chesterfield has been successful, and a further run of games in a side with everything to play for would only have aided his development. That we now need him to play five minutes at Molinuex as an 86th minute sub for Stevie May is neither use nor ornament.

Reasons to be cheerful

Reasons to be cheerful

Yes, it’s fairly frustrating that we’ve dropped points at home to a side that, for the most part, looked well capable of beating. It irks us all that we play on a crap surface with an enforced one-dimensional style that clubs have obviously wised-up to.

On the whole though, with a new owner promising to spend more on a pitch than we have done on one member of the playing staff for at least ten years, we have little to complain about.

Remarkable considering our expectations of this season.

Glass half full, folks.

OWLS ALIVE circliar yeller SPACE

Hugh
Owls Alive
E-mail: admin@owlsalive.com

Twitter: @hugh_wragg and @OwlsAlive


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