Swansea City came from behind to claim a point as Andre Ayew denied Tony Pulis a first win as Sheffield Wednesday manager.
The first half was a monument to the defensive structure swiftly imposed by Pulis, and Adam Reach swept in the first goal of his tenure to put them ahead.
But substitute Ayew skilfully levelled in a considerably improved second half for Swansea, who remain fourth in the Championship table and could have won it in the final minute only for Kasey Palmer's overhead goal to be ruled out.
Story of the match
Wednesday set their stall out from the very beginning; with banks of four and then five behind the ball, Pulis’s side were very structured, immensely disciplined, and very difficult to break down.
This time they wouldn’t suffer the early setback of a red card, after Josh Windass’s dismissal in defeat at Preston North End last weekend, though they did lose goalkeeper Keiren Westwood to a groin injury.
With Swansea failing find any way through, the visitors began to keep some possession and make strides forward. Julian Borner had one early chance fall to him which he fired straight into the grateful arms of Freddie Woodman, but the goalkeeper could do nothing to prevent the opening goal when Reach made an untracked near-post run to sweep home a Barry Bannan corner.
For all their possession, Steve Cooper’s team failed to register a shot until first-half injury time – a Jamal Lowe effort blocked by Joost van Aken – and the head coach took action at the break with Ayew brought on for his return from a hamstring injury, along with Palmer, and a change of formation from a back three to four as well. Both paid dividends.
Sheffield Wednesday were quickly given more to think about as the hosts offered more thrust and threat down the wings, and Ayew rewarded that improvement with a goal on the hour. It was all about the footwork as he received the ball and teased one way and the other, before moving decisively inside of van Aken and curling into the bottom corner.
Yan Dhanda twice went close from distance as Swansea continued to threaten, and Joe Wildsmith denied Ayew in injury time. More drama was in store though as, in the final minute, a mammoth goalmouth scramble ensued from a corner, but the referee had already blown for a foul when Palmer thought he had won the match with a spectacular overhead strike.
Straight out the Pulis playbook
A cynic might note it didn’t finish goalless, but otherwise it was a performance straight out of the Pulis playbook with organisation to the fore and a solid point gained on the road as a consequence.
Even though he seems to do it every time, it is still remarkable how quickly Pulis is able to drill a new side into his defensive methods, and the way they frustrated Swansea in the first half was exceptional from that perspective.
Even the first goal of the regime came out of the manager’s book, with a good old set piece move paying off as Reach found an acre of space in the box to finish. That proved the attacking highlight, though, as their deep-lying team left poor Jordan Rhodes highly isolated on his own up top.
It might have been enough for the win but a clean sheet continues to allude them. After Westwood’s poor clearing punch cost them a point at Preston, the defence failed to get to grips with Ayew as he wriggled out of what shouldn’t have been a dangerous position and rounded van Aken to score.
Swans lacking firepower
They might be in the play-off positions but Swansea are far from the finished article, particularly in attack where they have scored just 15 goals in their 13 matches so far this season.
The first half could be their worst of the campaign yet on that front, failing to register a shot in the opening 45 minutes. They were invited to break down a very disciplined team and, to put it simply, utterly failed in that task.
The forwards, and particularly young Liam Cullen, just couldn’t get on the ball at all as the midfield spotted no openings, and it was only with a change of system at half-time that they started to find some joy and stretch a defence which had been comfortable up until then.
Things were far better in the second half with Ayew making a predictably telling contribution, although they need more threats than just him. Palmer also did well off the bench and was unlucky not to be the hero of the hour while Dhanda grew to play an important part, but it is still a side clearly lacking in firepower.
Man of the match: Tom Lees (Sheffield Wednesday)
The central defender didn't put a foot wrong all night as Wednesday weathered a second-half storm to hold onto a hard-earned point.