A few night games ago Hillsborough was as loud as it had been for years, but as the Owls got things underway on Tuesday night against the only team below them in the Championship table there was a sombre tone to the support.
Before the game there was talk of protests and tennis balls, but after a bright enough start for the hosts the mood did lift around S6. A sarcastic cheer went up as they had their first shot on target – via Pol Valentin – but as the Owls grew into the game the cheers went from ironic to hopeful.
The balls did come out, mostly from the T1 section of the North Stand, but were met by boos from elsewhere and then promptly gathered up by staff before play continued, the atmosphere dropping once again as the same ‘Dejphon Chansiri, get out of our club’ chant heard on Saturday made the rounds again. Though the balls were relatively few, the stoppage did get tongues wagging on live TV.
After that it was Boro who seemed to be in the ascendency, and may have taken the lead had it not been for a fine intervention from Akin Famewo on the edge of Wednesday’s six-yard box. The visitors were keeping the ball well, and started to probe the Owls backline a bit more regularly as time went on.
Xisco had welcomed back captain Barry Bannan after he missed the loss to Ipswich Town, but Dominic Iorfa was missing after his knock sustained in that fixture, and with just over half an hour on the clock the Spaniard was dealt another injury blow as Josh Windass limped off – Anthony Musaba replaced him.
That change meant that nine of the 11 on the field in blue and white were new arrivals, and three of them would soon combine down the right to excellent effect. It started with Di’Shon Bernard, who found Valentin before powering towards the byline hoping to receive it back – he did. Expertly he cut it back, finding an unmarked Musaba with time to pick his spot, and in turn he stuck it right between Seny Dieng’s legs and into the back of the net. 1-0 Wednesday.
Boro were struggling, despite some nice passages of play, to cause any real problems, and had nobody committing to anything in the box – a dangerous ball in from Sammy Silvera highlighting the Chuba Akpom-sized hole in their attack.
Half time came and went after a largely uneventful six added minutes, but Michael Carrick dug into his bench to try and force some change down his right side – Lukas Engel came off and was replaced by Isaiah Jones.
It worked, and the team in red started much better in the second 45, pressing the hosts and inching their way further up the pitch. Barely 10 minutes had gone by as Lewis O’Brien swung a dangerous corner into the box, Famewo and Darragh Lenihan had hold of each other in a battle for dominance, but it was the Boro captain that came out on top as the Owls defender was bundled to the floor and could only watch as it was prodded goalwards off the bar.
A few moments later they had the ball in the net once again, Matt Crooks seemingly in the right place at the right time – except it wasn’t quite the right time, and he was called offside. It was a let-off for Wednesday, but the momentum had well and truly shifted.
In order to shift things back in their favour Xisco delved into his bench, first it was George Byers and Lee Gregory for Jeff Hendrick and Ashley Fletcher, and then Liam Palmer and Tyreeq Bakinson entered into the fold in place of Juan Delgado and John Buckley. Wednesday needed impetus.
But it never came. Carrick’s men remained on top, and though they weren’t able to force any real saves out of Devis Vasquez they looked a constant threat as the Owls seemed to drop deeper and deeper.
They did have a push as 90 minutes drew closer, though, Valentin - arguably the best Owl on the night - providing an outlet down the right, and Byers very nearly grabbed a winner from the edge of the box after being teed up by Gregory, but saw his left-footed effort fly just wide of the post.
Five minutes were added on, but by the time the board was held up things were already almost fizzled out. The two worst teams in the division, points-wise, couldn’t be separated, but the visitors will be the ones going home the happier having come from behind.
Wednesday, meanwhile, have their first point at home, but are left to rue passing up a first half that promised much more. Xisco marched straight down the tunnel at the final whistle as the boos began once again - Hillsborough is still not a happy place to be.