What an important win! It might not have been pretty, it might not have been straightforward but at the end of the day, we take three valuable points back to the West Midlands. Although it wasn’t a free-flowing performance, the players couldn’t be accused of not trying. All of them gave everything right up to the final whistle. Here’s how it happened:
It was a very slow opening to the game. You could tell both teams knew this was a big game and were desperate not to lose it. Both teams were guilty of playing a few passes before hoofing it forwards and hoping it would lead to a goalscoring opportunity which may explain why it took 18 minutes for the first shot which was a scuffed effort by Tom Less, easily saved by Etheridge. After half an hour Blues began to threaten the owls. Jeremie Bela put in a delightful cross from a free kick which Gardner just put wide of the post. It was lucky for Westwood because had it been on target he would’ve had no chance. Blues had the best chance of the half not long later as Gardner made a brilliant run in behind; Westwood came out to deny Gardner who did a brilliant chip back to Sunjic who headed it straight at Tom Lees on the Wednesday line
Like many games this season, it was level at the break with the deadlock yet to be broken. Blues finished the half on top and needed to take the momentum into the second half. One player who needs to be singled out for his first-half performance was Rekeem Harper. You would never think it was his first start for Blues. He fit into the midfield like a jigsaw puzzle, he was composed on the ball and had a clear desire to get forward.
Controversy occurred just four minutes into the half after Liam Shaw was issued a second yellow and dismissed from the pitch. I personally don’t believe it was a foul; I think he got the ball. Having said that it was a very idiotic decision to go into an unnecessary slide tackle when on a yellow card. He gave the referee a decision to make and I think those are the kind of rash decisions that can cost teams in relegation battles. If the game wasn’t there for the taking before, it certainly was now. Despite this, it was Wednesday who had the first big chance after the red card. Windass made it into the box far too easily but luckily nobody was there to tap home into the empty net before Banan blasted over the bar from outside the box. Upon 64′ minutes, Bela put in either a brilliant cross or had a powerful shot diverted into the net by Scott Hogan. It was brilliant striker’s instinct to get himself in the position and what a vital goal it may prove to be. Hogan had another chance to wrap it up after Gardner’s teasing cross along the face of goal was just nicked away from the onrushing Hogan by Liam Palmer. It was comfortable seeing the game out against the ten men. Defensive changes were made as San Jose and Roberts replaced the widemen Sanchez and Bela. Wednesday almost snatched a point in added time but Etheridge made a fantastic save from close range to deny Rhodes after his header seemed destined to ripple the net.
It was an important win and the players gave everything. The lads clearly read the banner posted outside Wast Hills last week as they did treat this as a cup final and at the final whistle you could see how much it meant to Pedersen especially. For the most part, the defence was solid and everyone put in the yards. Having said that Karanka’s substitutions were questionable. We had an extra man and could’ve probably seen the game out more comfortably by keeping possession, however, the entrance of Roberts and San Jose onto the pitch forced us to defend and invite the pressure which nearly cost us so dearly in the end. Those three points are valuable but I still question whether Karanka is the man to take us forward. We don’t know whether we would’ve made positive subs to win the game had we not gone down to 10 men and on another day shutting up shop against a better opposition would end in frustration.
On Tuesday we host Norwich. This is perhaps a game where Karanka’s philosophy of keeping tight might actually be handy. Norwich are on course to win the title and they have arguably the best attack in the league. A point against Norwich would be a good point to take into our game against QPR next Saturday. We have a long way to go and every game needs to be a cup final.