Two first-half goals from defender Vincent Sasso gave Sheffield Wednesday a narrow 2-1 victory over relegation threatened Blackburn Rovers in a feisty encounter at Hillsborough.
The Owls had won four and drawn three of their last eight league meetings against Blackburn and manager Carlos Carvalhal made one change from their 3-0 win over Birmingham, with Adam Reach in for Fernando Forestieri. Blackburn made two changes from their 1-1 draw at Rotherham, bringing in Hope Akpan and Connor Mahoney.
It was the side from Lancashire who started the brightest, winning a corner within the first minute. Teenage winger Mahoney dragged an early shot just wide of Kieren Westwood’s near post after some sloppy play from Wednesday. The home side quickly grew into the game with January signing Sam Winnall going closest. Ross Wallace went even closer minutes later, hitting the bar with a dipping free-kick but it was the next set piece that had the home fans cheering. Barry Bannan swung in a delicious ball towards the far post where Sasso escaped his marker to cushion a superb volley past Jason Steele in the Blackburn goal for his first goal since November 2013.
Three points for Blackburn would have lifted them out of the relegation zone and the incentive was clear to see as they won another corner soon after the restart. Elliott Bennett’s delivery was met by Danny Graham before deflecting off Sam Hutchinson and taking it beyond the keeper to level the score. It was another example of one of the oldest clichés in football: ‘A team is most vulnerable just after they’ve scored’.
The first main incident of the match came on the half-hour mark as Hutchinson was shown a yellow card for a nasty looking tackle on Sam Gallagher. The on-loan Southampton man was stretchered off with Blackburn manager Owen Coyle stating post-match that the player had “twelve stitches across his knee” and is certain to miss the next match.
As half time approached, Wednesday grew into the game with their second goal coming shortly before the break. The combination of Wallace and Jack Hunt down the right-hand channel yielded a corner which Sasso headed past Steele to make it 2-1 at the break.
Carvalhal introduced Forestieri and Steven Fletcher to try and get a third goal but there was a real lack of forward movement from either team. Bannan was guilty of perhaps being too selfish at times and wasted two good chances to pick out team mates.
The final fifteen minutes of the game had about as much excitement and action as the rest of the game combined. Substitute Forestieri was picked out by Bannan on the counter attack but was offside. Then it was Blackburn’s turn to come close with Marvin Emnes skying a shot way over the bar.
Westwood produced two brilliant saves to deny Emnes and Liam Feeney as Blackburn pushed for an equaliser. Emnes will be pushing for a place in the starting eleven next weekend after this performance and saw his shot bounce down off the underside of the bar onto the line then hooked clear. On first impressions, it appeared to have not crossed the line but it was another argument in favour of goal-line technology. Naturally Owen Coyle was adamant his side had scored saying: “The ball is clearly over the line. It’s not up for debate”.
With seven minutes to go Akpan scored what he thought was the equalising goal. Referee Scott Duncan however disallowed the goal after he was adjudged to have handled the ball before scoring. His protests earned him a straight red card to leave Blackburn with ten men for the closing stages of the game.
Wednesday manager Carvalhal was delighted with his side’s performance and praised their mentality stating: “When you play two home games in a row it is not normal to win the six points” adding how many teams face similar fixtures but fail to win both games. However not everything was cause for success as he explained: “We need to be more efficient with the counter attack. If it was 3-1 believe me, last 30 minutes would have been completely different”.
Blackburn manager Owen Coyle was rightfully frustrated at seeing his team leave Sheffield with no points at all and felt they deserved more: “The decisions that went against us were beyond belief.” His frustration stemmed primarily from refereeing decisions that went against them: “We’ve scored three good goals tonight but are leaving with nothing” – referencing the two disallowed efforts from Emnes and Akpan.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood (GK), Hunt, Loovens, Sasso, Fox, Wallace, Hutchinson, Bannan, Reach, Winnall, Rhodes. Subs: Wildsmith (GK), Jones, Fletcher, Abdi, McManaman, Palmer, Forestieri
Goals: Sasso (18’, 44’)
Bookings: Hutchinson, Bannan, Reach (Y)
Blackburn Rovers: Steele (GK), Williams, Lowe, Graham, Mulgrew, Gallagher, Akpan, Guthrie, Lenihan, Mahoney, Bennett. Subs: Raya (GK), Feeney, Emnes, Nyambe, Tomlinson, Brown, Conway
Goals: Hutchinson (20’ OG)
Bookings: Bennett (Y), Akpan (R)