If there's ever a chance to use a football cliché, I'll give a go. Game of two halves. There you go. After pezzling the Owls for most of the first half, which probably upset the RSPB, we had to show tremendous defensive resilience to come away with a point after Honeyman’s early opener was cancelled out by a thunderbolt from the home side.
The games come thick and fast with seemingly little time to draw breath and collect your thoughts between one and the next. What had been a reasonable journey down turned to mush once we got within 20 miles of Hillsborough, as everybody seemed to be heading into Sheffield on the A61. All plans for a pre-match trip into town, or even across the road, for a snifter or two had to be scrapped, and we had to take Rob's word that the Riverside Cafe had been decent.
Over 2,500 of us had converged on the Leppings Lane end (now known as the West Stand) to see the Lads unchanged yet again, and kicking east. That's away from us, just in case you were wondering, like.
Jones Browning Kone Galloway
Honeyman Ndong Catts McGeady
They had Westwood and Wallace in their starting eleven, and Fletch on the bench, just to add a bit of interest.
We'd only been going a lively couple of minutes, with the ball almost exclusively in their half when their 36 went down under a challenge from Vaughan - not the last thumping tackle of the evening - and it took several minutes to glue him back together. The ball was flying about, mostly between red and white shirts, and most things involved McGeady down the left. When Vaughan took the ball from the throw-in after the stoppage, he scooped a clever ball over the fullback to allow McGeady to burst in and fire in a cross that beat everybody in the middle to find Honeyman at the back with enough time and space to take a touch and blast in a volley that would probably have taken old boy Westwood with it had he got in the way. Boom. 1-0, 4 minutes.
It could have been two soon after when McGeady himself jinked around then found Galloway with a clever pass - the overlapping fullback hit a low cross, but this time nobody got on the end of it. A cross from a McGeady free-kick on the right saw Grabban produce the perfect back-post header, but unfortunately, he was at the front post and consequently it flew a yard or more wide. Should have done better, Lew.
It was fairly breathless stuff, with more going on per second than per minute in a Premier league game. There were tasty tackles going in from both sides, and the rule seemed to be that it was only a foul if you lifted your opponent more than two feet in the air. No complaints from me on that score, as the ref applied the same rule to both sides and let the game flow. This meant that, unlike the Prem, there were precious few opportunities to have five minutes pipe, as the game rarely stopped. Steele did well to stop and eventually keep hold of an effort after a cross from their left, and then had to punch clear in a crowded area as the ball dropped amongst the bodies following a corner. As at Norwich, we conceded and successfully defended several corners, with Jones getting in the blocks and heading away the resultant dead-balls. Vaughan was also back to add his height, and from one such clearance Galloway was away down the left and ended up in the box and getting in an effort of his own - almost a Nedum Onuoah moment -but Westwood stopped the initial shot then grabbed the ball to prevent Brabban putting the rebound away.
When the ref did decide we'd committed a foul (which most of us disagreed with, given what had gone before) Ross Wallace, who'd been a sub for Keano's Mackems on this very ground a decade ago in a 4-2 win thanks to goals from Yorke, Connolly, Hysen, and Edwards) stepped up and curled it over the wall, the crossbar, and the first few rows of seats. Cheers, Ross. Five added minutes, and we could go for a ...nah, way to crowded out the back.
1-0 at the break, and we were well worth it. Had we been ruthless, it would have been three, but one was more that we're used to, so we were reasonably happy with that.
If the first half hour was all us, and the last fifteen a bit of Wednesday, the second half was completely different. I've no idea what Carvalhal said at half time, expect that it probably included the word "obrigada" (that's Portuguese for "thank you") and it made a difference. They also brought on Fletch to add something difference and invoke the "score against your old club" rule. The main difference, though, was that everything seemed to go through Bannon in the inside left position, and he saw more of the ball than anyone else in the second half. In consequence, we failed to keep possession and virtually invited them on to us.
Despite the home side's dominance, the best chance fell to us after an hour when good play down our left saw the ball reach Vaughan just off the penalty spot, but he volleyed a yard wide of the keeper's right-hand post. Should have been a goal, and it would have been one that sent the natives, previously nervous, over the edge - and probably their manager as well.
It didn't, and the Owls were back on the attack, with Kone at the heart of everything in defence and we were beginning to think they'd soon run out of patience and get raggy, but on 70 minutes their left back Jones picked the ball up 30 yards out and moved forward to smash the ball in to Steele's right. Some claimed he should have done better, others that it took a slight touch, but the fact is it went just beyond the keeper and it wasn't quite in the corner, but it was a goal. It prompted the home side to go for the winner, which is exactly what you'd expect, and with Jordan Rhodes on for Winnal, they went three up front. More work for Kone and Browning, which they performed admirably. There was a header over the top, there was a dipping effort from Hooper which hit the top of the bar, and Steele had to tip over a dangerous cross. There was also a mad Sunday morning scramble as Kone blocked then everybody got in the way of shots before we scuffed it away.
When we did break forward, McGeady was guilty of faffing on just outside the area rather than passing to Jones on the right, and the ball was hacked away. We replaced the new crowd favourite soon after with Khazri, then brought on Gooch for Grabban, with Honeyman moving inside, as Grayson looked to protect what we had. Catts, who'd done well to continue after taking a heavy knock, eventually made way for Gibson. I thought we could have put more pressure on their 36, who'd been limping, holding his thigh, and generally looking to be on the verge of collapse for most of the second half, but we didn't.
Four minutes were added, which produced more of the same, but in the end it was a hard-fought point. There were tiring legs all over our side as the intense schedule of the Championship started to take its toll - we've only been back ten days and we've played four times - but we'll have to get used to that and utilise the squad to protect the players until they do.
There were some who moaned that they didn't want to pay to watch us try to get a draw, and would rather we "had a go like we did last season." Aye, right. We might have had a go now and then, but we were pretty crap at it. The last few games have shown that our effort and commitment is back, but we'll have to get used to the way the game is played in this division. It's not that the players are faster than in the Prem, it's just that they don't stop, and if the refs all allow games to carry on because, well, players don't seem to mind getting tackled, there are fewer chances to take a breather as they tend to get up when they get knocked over rather than rolling around. Shoulder charges are actually allowed. I'm not saying there's no unnecessary falling down, but there's an awful lot less.
There we go then. A draw away from home from a team that's still getting to know each other. Not brilliant, but not bad.
Man of the Match? McGeady was tremendous in the first half, but tried too hard in the second as well as being in a side that couldn't get him into the game as often. Vaughan got through a lot of work up front and at the back, but should have killed the game with that volley. Likewise, Grabban. In a defensive display that was backs-to-the-wall at times, Kone showed that when he wants to, he can. He's the man for me today, and if he can keep wanting to, he can be the best centre-half in this division.
Keep the Faith
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