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Town 2-1 Wednesday
Town 2-1 Wednesday
Saturday, 12th Oct 2002 19:19

The seemingly short-lived Tony Mowbray era got off to a winning start as a rather fortunate Town ran out 2-1 winners over Sheffield Wednesday. Two first half Pablo Couñago goals won the day, but the Owls were unlucky not to get the second goal which would have brought them a point.

Tony Mowbray and assistant Bryan Klug made a few changes from the line-up which collapsed at Grimsby earlier in the week. Town switched to a 5-3-2 formation with Wayne Brown in the middle of Mark Venus and Thomas Gaardsøe at central defence. Out went Finidi George and Tommy Miller, and into the midfield came Darren Ambrose. John McGreal failed his fitness test on a knee injury.

The Mowbray era almost started in disaster, Jermaine Wright giving away possession on the edge of the area and Simon Donnelly being allowed to hit a shot from 12 yards which beat Andy Marshall but hit the bar and came down in the six-yard box before being cleared.

It was only five minutes before Town struck the woodwork themselves, Wayne Brown rising high on the far post to head a Venus freekick onto the bar.

Donnelly, though was getting into decent positions, and on seven, after Gaardsøe and Brown had failed to deal with a long Sibon pass, he fired over when he should have scored. It was a second lucky escape for Town.

The extremely rainy conditions were difficult and both sides were making errors, Ambrose seizing on a slip in the 17th minute and almost completing a low cross into the box.

In the 24th minute Chris Makin went to ground inside the box after a Couñago shot had deflected off a couple of defenders. It looked to Town eyes like a penalty but the referee waved the appeals away.

Shortly after the penalty appeal, referee Phil Prosser got his yellow card wet for the first time, showing it to Leon Knight for a late tackle on Clapham and then less than a minute afterwards Derek Geary for a dive on the Town left.

Earlier Knight had gone down under pressure from Jamie Clapham, and perhaps more surprisingly a corner flag, which he landed on top of and which for a few seconds looked to pierced him. However, after treatment to his ankle he continued.

The Blues were gradually taking control after the shaky start and on 29 they took the lead. Chris Makin was fouled wide on the right and Mark Venus came across to take the freekick. The dead ball specialist whipped in a left-footed cross which Thomas Gaardsøe headed goalwards. Veteran custodian Kevin Pressman saved, but Pablo Couñago was there to follow up and lash into the roof of the net.

That was exactly what Town needed after the disappointments of recent weeks and the events of Friday.

The moment of the match proved ultimately to be decisive and occurred in the 34th minute. A ball was played to Couñago on halfway with his back to the Wednesday goal. The Spaniard took the ball down and quickly pushed it wide to Holland who had taken up a right-wing position. The skipper took the ball forward before hitting a glorious cross-field pass which went beyond the Wednesday defence to Jamie Clapham.

The wing-back took the ball on a pace or two and sent in a low cross which Couñago finished confidently before celebrating in front of the Churchman's end. It was virtually vintage Town and it looked like it might be the second of more.

The later stages of the first half saw Town at their best during the game, although still not at their best. Matt Holland had a fine shot tipped over by Pressman before Marcus Bent headed a right-wing Darren Ambrose cross over, although that Ambrose got the cross in at all was impressive enough.

With a minute of the half remaining Couñago, on the look-out for a hat-trick, hit a low shot which flashed across the face of the goal.

Wednesday showed that they were still a danger as the game entered injury-time with a combination of Brown, Makin and Marshall preventing Quinn from latching onto a ball forward.

The second half was to be far less impressive for the Blues. Although Matt Holland pulled another good save from Pressman early on, already Marshall had done excellently to save a header from Maddix.

Lloyd Owusu, Wednesday's summer signing from Brentford, had come on at half-time and had added a great deal to the Owls' attack. In the 57th minute he took the ball down the left wing, past Gaardsøe and sent in a cross towards Donnelly. The man who had missed two earlier opportunities left Venus in his wake as he headed the ball past Marshall to reduce the deficit.

That ought to have been a bit of a wake-up call for Town who had appeared very weary in the second half, perhaps due to the four games in ten days since the match away at FK Sartid.

Straight after the goal Couñago went up the other end and curled a shot just wide of the Wednesday goal, but it was largely the away side who were having the better of it.

In the 62nd minute Owusu broke clear and had the ball in the net, however, the flag had gone up early (apparently erroneously) and although he played the ball into the net it didn't count.

A minute later Tony Mowbray decided to make a change, Tommy Miller replacing Mark Venus and Town going to a 4-4-2, Miller in the middle with Holland, and Wright wide on the right.

On 63 there was another switch, Alun Armstrong coming on for double-scorer Pablo Couñago. There were boos from around the ground as the Spaniard made his way off. With Bent again quiet and appearing not to fit into Town's pattern of play, it was a surprise that Couñago was the man to go off. However, after the game it became evident that the ex-Celta Vigo man had been carrying a leg injury since the early stages.

Town had their best chance of the second half so far when Jamie Clapham crossed deep for Jermaine Wright who hit a volley which stuck Bromby when on its way in after fine work from Bent.

On 71 Owusu was again in the thick of the action, putting the ball wide as he ran in on an advancing Andy Marshall. Maddix found his way into the referee's book after complaining about a foul, Alun Armstrong heading the freekick over the bar.

With ten minutes left, Bent became the first Town player to enter the book for dissent after complaining about what he thought was a tackle from behind.

Town were hanging on, often by the skin of their teeth, Sibon heading a freekick from the right over the bar.

Finidi George made his entrance with four minutes remaining, Bent coming off to a mixed response from the home following. Darren Ambrose joined Armstrong in attack as Finidi moved to his usual right midfield role.

The closing stages were a nail-biting time for Blues' followers with Marshall failing to punch a corner cleanly and then Sibon heading a brilliant opportunity to score into the ground and then over the bar.

Many of the Wednesday team crashed to the ground after his miss, but to give them credit they didn't give up and only a stunning Andy Marshall tip round the post from a Paul McLaren header kept all three points on their way to Portman Road.

Hardly a vintage performance but a win in trying circumstances. The events of the past week couldn't have helped while conditions were awful and the number of fixtures recently have left the Town side visibly tired.

Pablo took his goals well and looks like he could be good for a fair few this season, perhaps even giving David Johnson some competition. His substitution came as a massive disappointment, but now appears to have been down to his injury.

With the manager's job vacant, off-field events are taking precedence (see Moore story) and the Town directors' box featured ex-coach and player Bryan Hamilton, Norwich coach Steve Foley, another former Town coach Stewart Houston and ex-Canaries' manager Bruce Rioch.

Tony Mowbray has repeated his desire to take the job permanently and will by no means be judged purely on this result or performance, the former more impressive than the latter.

Photo: Action Images

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