RAMBLE: Wednesday 2-0 Brighton & Hove Albion

Owls Alive Logo Blue NEWSometimes there’s a game that comes along where you just have to be there and as soon as Cardiff were despatched I knew I had to be at Hillsborough for the first leg.

The first problem was getting a ticket, with me no longer possessing a season ticket and priority points it was going to be a bit of a close one, Facebook came to the rescue and tickets were swiftly sorted albeit in the North Stand but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

The second was getting out of work, I was down to work until 10pm but I wangled a swap in return for doing a Saturday late shift, the bane of the retail worker’s existence, a small price to pay for our biggest game in years.

Those things done, thoughts of the game consumed me all week, even the Birmingham City fans I work with said “we hope your lads win, Wednesday are one of the best sides we’ve played all year, don’t want you again next season”, I thanked them for that and for taking Jacques Maghoma off our hands.

The days came and went and finally after spending Friday with and having a good catch up with my family the time came to drive up to S6. After a very swift visit to the Railway to collect my ticket, I made my way over to the Riverside to meet up with Japes, Baldy and Jordan. Dessie and Charlie were also spotted.

One of the popular talking points this season was how far we’ve come in the last few years, this season especially but I mentioned the low point of that 5-1 at Stevenage when the home fans that night were singing to us “Are you Hitchin in disguise?” because of how awful we were that evening, it may be less than five years but it seems a lifetime ago given our progress and it’s why I’ve appreciated this season all the more even if most of it has been spent watching from afar.

Instead of James O’Connor, Gary Teale and Darren Potter going through the motions in the Wednesday midfield, the dourness of Alan Irvine we have Bannan, Forestieri and Dave Jones’ greatest signing Kieran Lee, when you hear grizzled veterans of numerous Wednesday campaigns saying this is some of the best football they’ve seen in the years they’ve watched the Owls, it makes you appreciate what we have now all the more.

The talk continued, the beer continued flowing for most (apart from me, I was driving) and eventually we got to this match and the mood was quiet confidence, even Baldy who’s in the past been known for expecting the worst was confident, eventually it got to what we thought the score would be, Jordan asked “what do you think Danny”, as quick as a flash I uttered “2-0”, given my reputation of being utterly cack at predictions (anyone who reads the previews on a regular basis will understand), I didn’t think it would happen, I did think we would win though, Brighton had the mental trauma of missing out on promotion and having a few players missing, we’d played out a meaningless encounter at Wolves and rested a lot of our key players.

I finally got in and made my way to the front of the North and just soaked in the atmosphere, sometimes it’s hard to find the words but if this was your first football match or your ten thousandth it was special, I’ve been to Hillsborough countless times and I said the Cardiff atmosphere was something else but this, this made the Cardiff game look like Worcester City v Stockport County.

THE MATCH

I’m not going to go too much into depth on this because most of you will have seen it all already but the game started brightly, Wednesday had the better of proceedings in part due to their patient,possession laden approach with Pudil having a sighter and Wallace having two or three,one of which was superbly saved by Stockdale before Hemed gave the Wednesday a wake up call after his header bounced off the post, Baldock also had an effort blocked by Loovens.

It wasn’t long before the Owls had the ball in the net, a long punt forward by Westwood appeared to be flicked forward by Hooper into Forestieri’s path and the little magician effortlessly held off the Brighton defenders and finished with aplomb to send the crowd wild.

The joy was short lived though as Brighton protested to the assistant referee that Forestieri was offside. After an eternity and a long consultation between the ref and his assistant, the decision was reversed. AAAAGH! Having had the benefit of seeing it back and the way I understand it Forestieri was offside when Westwood’s kick was taken but would have been onside had Hooper actually connected with the flick on.

Nevertheless it wasn’t given much to the disgust of those around me who vented their frustration in the most brainless way possible by chucking drinks and coins at the assistant referee. One coin whizzed inches past my ear, needless to say I wasn’t best impressed.

After that it was the usual homophobic taunts aimed at the Brighton fans in the away end. Sheffield Wednesday doesn’t need tossers like these following the club and I hope that those who were guilty of this are caught and dealt with, it was the one dark mark on an otherwise amazing atmosphere.

Wednesday didn’t let that detract from their efforts and after that Brighton’s players started dropping like flies, Hemed and Goldson were forced off before half time but even with the stop start nature, Wednesday’s tempo didn’t drop – Lee,Lopez and Bannan were stroking the ball around midfield and stretching Brighton out.

The breakthrough came just before half time, Westwood threw it to Hooper who played a neat little one two with Kieran Lee, Hooper laid it out wide to Wallace who came forward, Hunt overlapped and drew a couple of Brighton defenders away, Wallace kept it though and unleashed an absolute thunderbastard of a shot that Stockdale got something on but nowhere near enough to stop the ball nestling in the net.

Forestieri even laughed about the earlier incident by cheekily telling Wallace his strike had been ruled out!

Brighton’s injury woes continued after the break when Sidwell was forced off and Knockaert injured himself trying to get to a ball he had little chance of getting to leaving the visitors with ten men.

Wednesday immediately went to a more attacking line up with Dave coming on for Lopez but it wasn’t at a cost to our patient, probing passing game which eventually saw Hunt pass to Forestieri who in turn played a wonderful through ball to Kieran Lee who showed the golden touch again as he effortlessly flicked the ball past Stockdale.

Brighton’s best effort was a free kick that went over when Loovens sold Pudil very short with a slack pass.

But after the second I saw something I’d never seen before at Hillsborough, it was like a rock concert where folk hold up the candles but instead it was phone lights, this old stadium was full of phone lights, it was magical, it was our way of hailing the orchestra of magnificence on the pitch with Maestro Carlos Carvalhal in charge of the affairs on the touchline, Barry Bannan doing the footballing equivalent of Stairway to Heaven, The Prince of S6 Kieran Lee making the ball play any tune he wanted it to ending with that glorious finish or Fernando Forestieri, that artist who just makes anything look easy and who quite frankly, I’m insanely jealous of down to Lees and Westwood, the guys who don’t do the pretty stuff but who the Wednesday music would sound crap without.

The final whistle came and I met up with Japes,Baldy,Jordan and the others to celebrate and to have a good natter with, so many happy Wednesday fans, it was just one of those occasions I soaked in and enjoyed, the inevitable Wembley talk followed but we all knew that even though we’ve made a giant leap towards there, the job isn’t done yet and to write off Brighton would be pure foolishness.

But for now, this night at Hillsborough will live with me for a long time. I’ve been there for some cack, I’ve had some amazing days following this football club – Cardiff 2005, Wycombe in 2012, this ranks right up there with them.

This is just a few of the numerous magical tweets I’ve seen inundate Twitter over the last 24 hours.

An amazing night and the drive back to the Midlands was painless even if there were roadworks on the M1 and part of the M42 was shut, drives like this are worth it for a night like Friday.

I’ve been through so much over the years following this team, the heartbreak of relegation, the elation of promotion. They’ve tested my footballing faith time and time again like a femme fatale in films, they’ll disappoint you, a small part of you will hate them at times but occasionally they produce this moment where all the shit you go through, those 5-1 shellackings at Exeter and Stevenage, those six hour journeys to lose at Plymouth, coming home at 3am after losing at Carlisle, all of those crap moments become worth it for scenes like these.

Hopefully there’ll be more magic scenes on Monday.

Danny
Owls Alive
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