Two Sheffield Wednesday goals in the last eight minutes made sure honours remained even in the 126th Steel City Derby this afternoon. After the Blades took a two goal lead into the second half courtesy of Stephen Quinn and Ched Evans efforts, both Chris O’grady and Gary Madine were on hand in the last ten minutes to ensure each Sheffield team took a point away from what was an enthralling derby clash.
A record League One attendance for this season were in attendance to see what was the first third tier meeting of the two teams since the 1979. United had made three changes from their Johnstone’s paint trophy tie with Rotherham Stephen Quinn, Lee Williamson and Marcus William s were recalled at the expense of Ryan Flynn, Chris Porter and Jean Francois Lescinel respectively.
With the words of John Denver still ringing in both teams ears it was Wednesday that started the brighter. From the first five minutes Wednesday direct approach was evident and the bombardment of the United penalty area through free kicks and throw ins was relentless. However, it was in the Wednesday box that the first incident of note would occur. With an over hit cross from Evans finding its way to the right side of the penalty area, a clumsy challenge from Wednesday defender Reda Johnson on Lee Williamson led to the United winger falling. The 26 year old referee waved away the protests from the United players and Kop alike, which though soft could have easily been given with regards to the letter of the law.
The period after this reverted to type with the Wednesday`s long throws and high free kicks causing miscommunication and at times panic in the Blades area. However, the Blades did look as if they could get behind the slow Wednesday defense and were having glimpses of joy down the Wednesday left. This was apparent when in the eleventh minute Evans through a well placed through ball from McDonald found himself space on the right hand side of the Wednesday box and struck a shot across the goal that after a deflection of a Wednesday player inexplicably struck the post. The ball then cannoned back to the oncoming STEPHEN QUINN who through reflexes alone struck the ball left footed into the roof of the net. United had taken the lead but completely against the run of play.
The goal did nothing to halt the aerial assault of the Wednesday team and Blades faced sustained pressure after their opener. The culmination of this came when a Wednesday free kick met the head of unmarked Gary Madine that sent a weak angled header towards Steve Simonsen`s goal. The ex-Everton keeper seemed to have it covered but in a bizarre turn of events the ball squirmed loose from his grasp and found its way to the oncoming Wednesday striker who produced a magnificent outstretched palm from Simonsen onto the post. In reflection it was by all means a ‘world class` save but the incident should have been averted by Simonsen beforehand.
Nevertheless, the Blades still looked a threat and after penetrating down the right side again, a foul led to a free kick in a promising area. From the resultant pinpoint centre from Williamson, CHED EVANS found himself unmarked in the box and sent a thunderous near post header into the back of the net. From their second shot on goal the Blades had scored, and the fortune the Blades had lacked in their last two previous league ties was presenting itself today in the most glorious way.
Despite the two nil lead Wednesday remained in the ascendancy and it seemed only a matter of time before they scored from a set piece or a throw in. On the half hour mark the Wednesday left winger Marshall struck a venomous left footed strike towards Simonsen`s right hand corner but United skipper Montgomery did enough with his header to divert it onto the bar. Minutes later another corner from Wednesday exposed poor marking from the Blades and centre back Batth sent a free header in the six yard box well wide.
As the half drew to a close the place slowed down and United began to get a foothold in the game and went into the break the stronger with only poor decisions in the final third preventing them from stretching their lead. Nonetheless, as the half time whistle blew United players and fans alike must have been mouthing the words ‘Daylight Robbery` to one another and thanking the football gods for the two nil lead they had going into the break.
The second period took on a different nature as the half time break breathed a new confidence into the Blades side. The high balls and direct football continued but United seemed to have a greater handle on the Wednesday strategy. This led to United holding the ball far better than they had in the first half and even controlling the game. Although there were no chances of note, the ball was being played in the Wednesday half and when the men in blue and white`s chances were limited to shots from outside the area. Collins was looking dominant at the back and an impressive outstretched block from a Wednesday goal bound effort encapsulated this.
It must be said as the half went on the young referee seemed to be losing the grip he had on the game in the first half, and as the half went on the physicality and aggression of the Wednesday players was often being ignored or punished when noticed .
Blades made changes in this period with the impressive but booked Williamson being taken off for the livewire Blackpool loanee Phillips.
With the last ten minutes looming it seemed the Blades had done all the hard work and Wednesday had seemed to run out of steam. Then with eight minutes left, a hopeful punt from the Owls keeper was misjudged by Maguire and his misplaced header found its way to the Wednesday wing. A cross from the right wing was then flicked on and O`GRADY was on hand to nip in front of Simonsen and header the ball into the roof of the net for Wednesday`s opener. The goal galvanized Wednesday from an atmosphere of flatness and the pressure had been turned straight back onto the Blades.
In recognition of the Owls` ascendancy Wilson looked to go on the defensive, he replaced the Blades` most potent threat up front Evans, for the height advantage of Porter. This made little difference two minutes later when Wednesday leveled in controversial circumstances. Wednesday central midfielder Semedo sent a lofted ball into United`s box and with Simonsen deciding to come out, MADINE leaped highest and sent his effort goal bound. Despite desperate attempts at clearances from McDonald and Collins, Wednesday had found their leveler. United protested to the referee in the aftermath, but these remonstrations were in vain and the inevitable equalizer had occurred with still four minutes left on the clock.
With the removal of Evans United lacked any threat up front and if a team was to win it, it would have had to been Wednesday. The remarkable comeback was nearly completed when in stoppage time another aerial ball found its way to a unmarked Wednesday player in the United box but his header was directed straight at Simonsen (and no he didn`t drop it this time).
Overview If you take the game as a whole a draw was probably the fairest result. However, after weathering the majority of the Wednesday storm the fifteen minutes before Wednesday took their opener the Blades looked comfortable. It was another case of the Blades mental fragility that has been the cornerstone of their failures in the last two seasons. In their heart of hearts all Blades fans can admit to fearing the worst when the first goal went in and even predicting events getting even graver when the second found its way to the back of the net. Although the Blades scored two goals, they didn`t create too much and this again highlights their lack of potency up front when you take Evans out of the picture. Although there were many good defensive performances ie (Williams, Collins and Monty), apart from Evans and Williamson to an extent Blades lacked much penetration in the final third. In defense the Blades products Lowton and Maguire continue to show their inexperience. Lowton didn`t have to bad a game today and got forward, but his distribution continues to frustrate. Equally, apart from the odd 40 yard ball, for me Maguire was bullied today and made a string of mistakes one leading to the first goal. I do not know whether it is tiredness but cracks are appearing to show in the defensive play of this evidently talented player.
Danny Wilson- Thought Wilson got it wrong today with his substitutions. I could see his thinking behind bringing on the pace of Phillips but did not understand why Williamson was sacrificed. If it were me and I was going to go defensive I would have sarified one of the strikers and played five in midfield with Phillips encouraged to get forward. I also disagreed with his decision to take Evans off. Having already conceded one goal, I felt we still needed that threat going forward that Porter and Cresswell could not offer. By bringing Evans off it showed to me Wilson was waving the white flag.