Slick Owls defeat defensive Seagulls

wednesday celebrate

Wednesday 2-0 Brighton –

Sheffield Wednesday had finished their league season in poor form but if they or their fans were nervous about their play-off semi-final with Brighton, it did not show. A rocking Hillsborough saw the Owls produce a fine performance of slick, attacking football to secure a 2-0 win over their toothless south-coast visitors. The decision to disallow Fernando Forestieri’s goal was rendered irrelevant by Ross Wallace’s first half strike. Four injuries reduced a defensive Brighton side to 10 men after the break and Wednesday took advantage when Kieran Lee added a second.

The hosts’ aptitude for possession football was evident early on and they looked dangerous when they played down the right with Jack Hunt getting forward. The right-back crossed for Wallace to fire over on eight minutes, before the former Burnley midfielder forced a flying save from David Stockdale two minutes later.

Those efforts sandwiched Brighton hitting the post, the game assuming an end-to-end feel. Jiri Skalak has proven himself as a dead ball specialist and the Czech’s corner was headed onto the woodwork by Tomer Hemed, who threatened to prosper from Wednesday’s set piece frailties.

The hosts do not have as much physicality as they did under Stuart Gray last season, so they are no longer associated with route one football. However, they nearly scored from such a move when Keiron Westwood’s high ball found its way to Forestieri, who swivelled and planted the ball into the net. Celebrations were cut shot though when the goal was retrospectively ruled out for offside, provoking fury from head coach Carlos Carvalhal.

Wednesday lost a degree of intensity and fluidity after that moment as Brighton regained their structure. Chris Hughton’s side rarely threatened however, lacking pace and creativity in the final third with striker Sam Baldock having a limited influence. They relied largely on defensive strength, but their plan of containment that was scuppered just before the break. Wallace picked up the ball in their half and with midfielders distracted by Hunt’s decoy run, he was allowed to get a shot away, which he hit sweetly into the far corner.

Sheffield Wednesday continued to dominate possession in the second half, even though they were leading in the tie. Daniel Pudil hit a rasping drive that flew just wide of the near post. Brighton had had incredibly bad luck with injuries on the night, with Connor Goldson, Steve Sidwell and Hemed all forced off due to injury. It got even worse when creator in chief Anthony Knockaert was the fourth player to leave the pitch, meaning the Seagulls had to play the remaining half hour with 10 men.

It was a case of damage limitation for the visitors, while Wednesday probed for a second. Carvalhal signalled his intent by taking off Alex Lopez and putting on target man Atdhe Nuhiu to give his side a focal point. Brighton’s Beram Kayal had been their best player for an hour but even he waned in influence late on as the visitors sat back. Their only moment of promise came when they won a free-kick in a dangerous area after a shaky Glenn Loovens had given the ball away, but Skalak fired over.

The graceful Forestieri and the dynamic Lee had been Wednesday’s best players all evening and it was fitting that they combined for their second goal. Forestieri played a typically inch-perfect through ball for Lee, who tucked the ball beyond Stockdale to secure a two goal advantage for the home side.

It was a first leg victory Wednesday’s players deserved as much as the fans, who create an electric atmosphere and, quite literally, lit up the stadium. Brighton, Knockaert and Hughton have all experienced bad luck in the play-offs in recent years – Friday’s defeat suggests lightening may strike twice.