Sheffield Wednesday conceded their 16th set-piece goal of the season as the Owls failed to climb into the League One play-offs after being held to a 1-1 draw against Accrington Stanley at Hillsborough Stadium on Tuesday night.
Callum Paterson scored the Owls’ 22nd home goal of the season – the highest in the top four divisions – in the 66th minute, as it looked to be a scrappy three points that would have seen Wednesday leapfrog Sunderland into sixth.
Leaking goals from set-pieces have been an Achilles heel for Darren Moore’s side, with 39% of their goals conceded coming from set-plays, and it has cost them once again; however, the Owls created enough chances and ought to have had the three points in the bag even before Paterson’s opener.
Saido Berahino fired straight at goalkeeper Toby Savin after Michael Nottingham set him up perfectly with a miscued clearance; Paterson had a low, drilled effort saved; and Barry Bannan saw an early header be tipped wide.
It was disappointing that the Owls failed to take advantage of the few glimpses of momentum in a game devoid of quality, but that was to the credit of John Coleman’s regimented side.
Accrington made it difficult
Stanley made the game difficult for Wednesday, putting in a disciplined and bitty performance that frustrated the Hillsborough crowd.
The midfield and the forwards packed central areas and were fluid with their press. This forced Wednesday to go long and play to Accrington’s aerial strength, with the visitors winning 38 headers compared to the Owls’ 21.
That tactic restricted the capabilities of midfield trio Bannan, Massimo Luongo, and George Byers, who were all also forced into wide areas and although the Owls’ strength is their wing-play, their crosses – 24 in total from Bannan, Byers, Johnson, and Jack Hunt – were mostly dealt with by the burly backline.
It was a polar opposite performance to the one they produced on Saturday, and it felt like they had a little bit of a comedown after the jubilant highs of that six-goal thrashing over Cambridge United.
With two games in hand over sixth-placed Sunderland before kick-off, the Owls had the opportunity to not only jump into the play-off positions but begin to create some distance on the teams below and cement their place in there. However, Johnson’s own goal left them one point below the Black Cats.
Ultimately, it is those inconsistencies that could see Wednesday fall short come to the end of the season. Hindsight in football is a beautiful thing, but the Owls do not want to be scratching their heads and looking back at the areas where they dropped specific points that would have seen them get over the line.
It is a blessing in disguise that the division is as tight as it is because Wednesday may well have found themselves further down the table.
Dominic Iorfa’s return
The return of Dominic Iorfa was a welcomed one, as the defender started his first game in 143 days.
His last start came against Lincoln City in October before making cameo appearances off the bench recently, playing six minutes in the 5-2 win over Burton Albion and 32 minutes during Saturday’s victory over Cambridge.
Moore has stated his intention of easing some of the other absentees back into the squad, with several players back in training following prolonged periods on the treatment table.
He said: “What we must remember is that a lot of our players have been out for a long, long time and it is difficult when the games are coming like they are then giving them a full 90 minutes is straining them.
“What we are trying to do is to get those muscle groups working and that is a big thing. It is important that when players do come back then we aren’t putting too much pressure on them and that’s why everyone has their part to play.
“Our job is that when people come back then they are back, and I don’t want to lose more people and keep the squad together really.”
If the Owls can get the likes of Dean and Chey Dunkley, an unused substitute on Tuesday night, back and fully fit, then Wednesday may iron out those discrepancies at the back and stop conceding soft set-pieces.