Sheffield Wednesday emerged with a 1-0 win against Brighton and Hove Albion in the FA Cup 3rd Round on Saturday afternoon to snap out of a recent run of poor form.
Whilst both sides named fairly strong teams for this one – as though it were a league game – both displayed the intensity that confirmed this was a cup match at the end of a hectic festive period, early on in the tie.
Though the quality wasn’t poor, the opening stages of this one lacked the cut and thrust you’d expect if these were meeting in a league match and, in truth, it was even enough to suggest that they could be in the same division.
Brighton, early on, were slack in possession at times and offered Wednesday a few early invitations to increase hope.
Winger Jacob Murphy had the first chance, Adam Reach’s centre after good running down the left was flashed over David Button’s crossbar, with the winger then minutes later crashing another shot into the Brighton defence.
A fairly promising start from the Owls, then, and the away fans responded. In good numbers, they were vocal for much of this match and little suggested that league form had frustrated so frequently in recent games.
Brighton, though, would work themselves into this one with Gaetan Bong’s goal-bound header needing tipping over from Cameron Dawson in the Wednesday net.
Minutes later, Neal Maupay – for much of the half in a highlight-of-the-game-so-far type battle with Dominic Iorfa – would round Dawson outside his area, but it was the big Owls defender that was there to recover and block him in his path to goal.
Maupay would be Brighton’s bright spark in the first-half. He’d have another chance after keeping the ball in play on the byline but fired straight at Dawson but his competitive nature – at least threatening some intensity in this one – also earned him a yellow after a frustrated, wayward ball throw hit the back of Murphy’s head, who was on the floor after being fouled by the Frenchman. After that, the striker seemed to fizzle out.
The best chance of the half, though, would come for Fletcher who robbed Dale Stephens but Button was equal to his crashing half volley. 0-0 it would be at the break.
‘Raise things,’ would have been the message from both managers during half-time but, clearly, only one side got the briefing and that was the Owls judging by the first period of the second half.
Wednesday, often better in the first 45 in recent weeks against the likes of Derby and Nottingham Forest, were improved after the break as they got about their hosts.
Indeed, Brighton simply could not get going quickly again in this half, either, letting the Owls on to them and inviting them to have chances, encouraging them that they could win.
Even after Steven Fletcher had to be stretchered off early on, the Owls looked more threatening and, just after the hour, they got the goal their recent play deserved.
Massimo Luongo was fouled on the edge of the box by Steven Alzate and Wednesday used a free-kick from the training ground to provide Adam Reach with a strike at goal. It was low and well-struck and, with a deflection on the way through, it beat Button in the Seagulls’ net.
No more than the away side deserved and the home fans, rightly, were getting restless.
So good at times this season with their possession-based style, The Amex was groaning frequently at the Seagulls’ approach.
Again, as in the first half, Albion would gradually get into this one and with 15 minutes looked a bit more likely – though they never really upped the ante to a level they did against Chelsea in the week with a couple of chances coming from corners.
In the final 10, you might have expected the home side to throw the kitchen sink at their previously out of form visitors but, in truth, that never came.
Wednesday looked fairly assured at the back and well-drilled, Garry Monk spoke of wanting to see fight in his side after their recent run and he certainly got that, how he’ll now hope to see more of that once the Championship returns.
For Brighton, there’ll be no run to Wembley this year. Instead, they’ll look to finish this season as strong as possible. Overall, it could well be a fine first season for Potter in Sussex, but this early exit will now amplify performances in the league to come.
Wednesday, meanwhile, now need to use this to get their play-off challenge out of a losing rut and back to a winning run – as they achieved before Christmas.
How any run in the cup aids, or hampers, them in that quest, though, remains to be seen.