Sheffield Wednesday lost their fourth league game in a row as they were defeated 2-1 by Ipswich Town on a dispiriting night of football for Owls fans.
Two second-half goals from former Rangers forward Martyn Waghorn leaves Wednesday in 17th place, looking firmly over their shoulder in the Championship table.
With two home games in a week-ahead of Bolton on Saturday, Jos Luhukay would have been targeting six points before kick-off to pull away from the dreaded relegation places.
The loss was a further setback for Wednesday after being thumped 4-0 by Bristol City in their previous fixture.
Wednesday have now not beaten Ipswich in their last nine home league games. Mick McCarthy has never lost at Hillsborough, picking up four wins and five draws at the venue after tonight’s victory.
If those statistics sound bad enough for Wednesday fans, the Owls have lost five consecutive matches in all competitions for the first time since December 2012.
Despite being named the fan’s player of the month for February, there was no place in the starting line-up for Lucas Joao, having scored four goals in seven. Tom Lees started for the first time since picking up an ankle injury which kept him out for over three months.
The central defender reached the landmark of 150 Wednesday appearances in doing so as Luhukay made six changes.
Playing in an unfamiliar red strip, Ipswich were aiming for consecutive wins for the first time since November.
With the atmosphere subdued in the stadium, Dave Jones tried to lift the crowd with some attacking intent, but his pass was not collected by Liam Palmer inside the Town area with eight minutes on the clock.
Wildsmith clawed away Jonas Knudsen’s dangerous cross, before Martyn Waghorn fired wide from 25 yards with a speculative attempt.
The opening twenty minutes were flat, bereft of any real openings on goal. Both sets of supporters have not had much to raise their voices about this season, having started the season with top-six expectations.
Adam Reach lashed a 30 yard free-kick well wide, met with the same groans which broke out when Atdhe Nuhiu completely missed Lee’s drilled pass out from the back.
The lively Carayol hobbled off on 25 minutes, heading straight down the tunnel. Freddie Sears came on to replace him.
Moments later, Wednesday created their first big chance. Nuhiu brilliantly connected with his volley after the ball looped up in the air following Jacob Butterfield’s blocked attempt. The imposing striker’s powerful attempt was straight at Bartosz Bialkowski who made an instinctive save with his face.
Intensity levels were creeping up as Wednesday shouts for a penalty were dismissed by referee Oliver Langford after Nuhiu went down in the box.
By now the game was flowing much quicker. Both sides broke forward in search of the much-needed opening goal. The Tractor Boys’ player of the month for February, Cameron Carter-Vickers, drilled a rasping low strike just wide of Wildsmith’s near-post following a corner.
At the other end, space opened up for George Boyd, then Jacob Butterfield, who combined well to play Nuhiu in. Having scored a 95th minute equaliser at Portman Road in November, he was denied on this occasion as his effort was blocked for a corner when well-placed.
A largely forgettable first-half was then brought to a close with only one real noteworthy save from either keeper taking place. Ripples of boos broke out from a disgruntled home crowd.
Hoping to energise the game, Joao was brought on as a substitute for the second-half, replacing Jordan Rhodes. Luhukay would have been hoping the Portuguese striker could replicate his two-goal heroics against Derby during Wednesday’s last win.
Reach once again failed to test Bialkowski, nor come remotely close to hitting the target as he fired well wide.
Martyn Waghorn broke the deadlock for Ipswich on 51 minutes reacting well to Callum Connolly’s header to finish under Wildsmith with a first-time volley from close range. The Owls’ defence failed to stick with their men, as the mood within Hillsborough deteriorated further.
A couple of minutes later, it could have easily been two as the Wednesday defence switched off again. This time, Sears was left completely free at the back-post to cushion it into the path of the onrushing Connolly, whose header was brilliantly tipped over by Wildsmith.
With almost an hour on the clock, a desperate scramble in the Ipswich box resulted in first Boyd, then Nuhiu, being denied a shot at goal. The home side were suddenly on the front-foot with Joao being bundled over when he looked well-set to score. No penalty was awarded.
Yet, the defensive frailties kept on coming for Luhukay’s team at the other end as Sears latched onto a horrible back pass to go round Wildsmith, but away from goal as Wednesday rushed back. Cue more boos.
Despite their shambolic defending, Wednesday pushed forward with intent. Butterfield floated a delightful pass into Nuhiu, but even he could not stretch out a long limb to divert the ball towards goal after a Wednesday free-kick.
It proved to be an inspired half-time change as Joao danced past two Town defenders with a jinking piece of skill before expertly curling into the bottom corner, leaving Bialkowski with no chance. A vital 69th minute goal at a desperate time for The Owls to level the scores.
Joao was the spark of life the home side craved, hurrying Bialkowski off his line to collect, yet his presence could do nothing about Waghorn’s second goal to move McCarthy’s team back in front.
Town’s forward curled his bending free-kick into the far top corner leaving Wildsmith routed to the spot. Wednesday had roughly ten minutes to respond again.
This proved to be beyond them however as the game petered out.
Ipswich have won 2-1 at Hillsborough for two consecutive seasons now as the final whistle was met with the all too familiar sound of boos. Jos Luhukay’s side are firmly embroiled in a relegation dogfight which they are getting sucked into, given their atrocious form.
Fortunately for them, the teams beneath them also lost so the points margin remains the same as it was before kick-off.
Mick McCarthy: ‘‘I think overall we deserved to win. It was a right real scrap in the first-half. They are a good football team who stretch the pitch out, but we stopped them. The second goal from Waghorn was real quality and I think we deserved it overall.
‘‘Six points from two games is great. I still think it’s too much to get the play-offs though.
‘‘We had a different threat when Freddie Sears came on. He’s very selfless but it’s been a very good team performance.’’
Jos Luhukay: ‘‘We win together and we lose together. The players must believe in each other and themselves, and that’s what I will try to do.
‘‘We have to credit the Ipswich forward for the second goal. No player is at fault for that.’’
Sheffield Wednesday: Joe Wildsmith, Liam Palmer, Glenn Loovens ©, Tom Lees, Morgan Fox, David Jones, Jacob Butterfield, Adam Reach, George Boyd, Atdhe Nuhiu, Jordan Rhodes
Subs: Lucas Joao (for Rhodes) 45
Unused subs: Cameron Dawson, Joey Pelupessy, Daniel Pudil, Fraser Preston, Almen Abdi, Frederico Venancio
Ipswich: Bartosz Bialkowski, Jonas Knudsen, Luke Chambers, Adam Webster, Callum Connolly, Jordan Spence, Cole Skuse, Luke Hyam, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Mustapha Carayol, Martyn Waghorn
Subs: Freddie Sears (for Carayol) 25, Grant Ward (for Hyam) 74, Joe Garner (for Waghorn) 89
Unused: Michael Crowe, Dominic Iorfa, Bersant Celina, Stephen Gleeson
Ipswich: Chambers, Carter-Vickers