Wednesday 0-1 Town
Saturday, 15th Mar 2003 18:06
Town kept their play-off hopes well and truly alive with a deserved 1-0 win against struggling Sheffield Wednesday. The Blues went ahead through skipper Matt Holland in the 16th minute and could have added to their lead, particularly in the first half.
With Chris Makin out injured, Matt Richards came into the back four, Richard Naylor playing alongside Thomas Gaards√łe in the centre. Martijn Reuser made his first start of the Royle era on the left of midfield.
Wednesday striker, and former Town loan target Shefki Kuqi, hit the first shot of the afternoon in the second minute, but hardly tested Andy Marshall.
Town's most impressive early attack was a quick break down the left, however Darren Bent had strayed offside. Fabian Wilnis brought the first save out of Paul Evans when he hit a 20 yarder which the keeper caught with little trouble.
There was an early substitution for the home team, Darryl Powell departing after injuring himself fouling a Town player. Steven Haslam took his place.
The Blues had begun to take control of the game after a shaky start but on 15 loanee Michel Reddy tested Andy Marshall with a shot which the keeper caught comfortably.
A minute later Town's greater possession told when they went ahead. Marcus Bent chased down defender Garry Monk who failed to communicate with his keeper and played the ball out for a corner. Jim Magilton whipped the ball in, Darren Bent got his head to it and directed it to towards goal where Matt Holland nodded it beyond Evans and into the net in front of the Town support.
The Blues continued to have the better of it although Marshall was in action to gather well on the edge of his area as Kuqi chased a long ball over the top.
Not long after nMatt Holland sent the ball across the face of the Wednesday goal before Kuqi hit another shot but again failed to really test Marshall.
The Blues' passing was as good as we've seen for some while and in the 25th minute a moving involving Reuser and Marcus Bent ended with the ball being played from the left to the right where Jermaine Wright hit a shot which was well struck, but which was too close to Evans.
While Town's passing was excellent, the back four were looking solid, Richard Naylor hardly looking like a player in only his second senior start in defence.
With ten minutes left before the break Town played keep-ball as Magilton, Holland, Reuser, Darren Bent and Richards were all involved before a Richards cross from the left reached Bent at the far post, the striker heading over. Jermaine Wright behind him may have been in a better position to finish.
There was controversy in the 40th minute when Richards played a long pass down the Town left for Darren Bent. Keeper Paul Evans rushed off his line and out of his area but was beaten to the ball by Bent who took it past him. Evans lashed a boot at the striker and sent him flying, the referee immediately blowing up.
Referee Bratt showed Evans a yellow card, somewhat surprising given the cynical nature of the challenge. Although Bent was going away from goal the seriousness of the tackle certainly warranted more than a caution. From the freekick Reuser sent in a cross which the keeper claimed.
Three minutes prior to the end of the half Town's increasingly slick passing ended with Wilnis sending a cross into the box. Darren Bent hit a first time effort which struck the top of the bar and went over.
Just before the break, Alan Quinn hit a shot wide of Andy Marshall's post. As he left the field after the whistle goalkeeper Evans, booed after his foul on Darren Bent, stuck his tongue out at the Town fans and perhaps considered himself a lucky man still to be on the pitch.
No changes at the break and it was Wednesday who were to have the first opportunity of the new half. Reddy broke down the right, beating Richards for pace. He cut in and hit a low shot to Marshall's right which the keeper did well to save.
Town's passing, so impressive at the end of the first half, hadn't reached quite the same level in the second, but on 48 Marcus Bent almost conjured a second goal. The striker stylishly turned two defenders and burst into the area on the right. His shot on goal was well saved by Evans but it fell to Reuser. The Dutchman put the ball back across the box but the linesman's flag was raised.
On 62 Joe Royle replaced Darren Bent with Pablo Couñago, the Spaniard's hold-up play useful when trying to protect a lead. The pattern of the second half saw Town pushed back more than the first by Wednesday's more direct play, however the Blues were always dangerous on the break, although caught offside on more than one occasion.
Matt Holland might have had a second goal in the 67th minute when he was played through by Couñago. The Town captain did well to hold off defenders as he broke into the area but a combination of the defence and the goalkeeper prevented him getting an effort in on goal.
With 18 minutes left Ian Westlake replaced the visibly tiring Martijn Reuser on the left of the Town midfield. Westlake was quickly into the action and was unlucky to be flagged offside when in the clear with only Evans to beat.
Richard Naylor made an important defensive contribution on 76 when he headed a Lee Bradbury cross over the bar after Richards had been caught in possession inside his own area.
On 77 Dean Bowditch replaced Marcus Bent up front, his pace giving the home defence a few problems in the final few minutes.
Town enjoyed the best of the latter stages with Richards, Westlake and Couñago doing particularly well down the left. With four minutes remaining Westlake got in a low cross which Couñago flicked on, but there was no Town player there to finish.
Three valuable points and the Blues were particularly impressive throughout much of the first half and there could have been more goals. Holland, who had a fine game, took his chance well while the passing left the Wednesday defence chasing shadows.
The pace of the two Bents was a constant threat while at the back Naylor looks very comfortable alongside Gaards√łe. Wilnis continues his rich vein of form and, a couple of errors aside, Matt Richards hardly looks the youngster he is.
In addition to the three points results elsewhere gave the Blues the helping hand they'll need if they are to reach the play-off places. Two home games in the next week, six more points will give Town an excellent chance of extending their season further into May.
Photo: Action Images
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