Wednesday 1-0 Norwich
15/04/06 - 15:00
The Owls were desperate for all three points, and a Marcus Tudgay effort on the stroke of half-time ensured Paul Sturrock's men picked up the vital victory - which now sees Wednesday stretch the gap at the bottom of the league to seven points with just three games remaining.
It wasn't a classic, but the Owls were backed by the majority of a magnificent 30,755 crowd at Hillsborough, who's presence pushed the team over the line in the second half. With the nearest rivals Crewe only picking up a draw at Crystal Palace, Wednesday must now lose every game and nearest rivals Brighton must win all their three. Although it's not mathmatically over, the Owls look sure to be playing Championship football next season.
Paul Sturrock promised to change the side that lost to relegation rivals Crewe last weekend, and promptly did so. Centre-back Patrick Collins was dropped and replaced by the experienced club captain Lee Bullen in the centre of defence.
Sturrock also opted the drop Glenn Whelen from the side after the Irish Under-21 international struggled to impress the Hillsborough faithful in recent games. Fit-again Steve Adams resturned to the side alongside Yoann Folly in the centre of midfield.
Another one of the criticised Owls players Chris Brunt returned to the side in place of Jon-Paul McGovern. McGovern looked to be struggling for fitness in last weekend's match and was replaced by the creative midfielder as the Owls searched for vital goals.
Youngster Tommy Spurr was included on the bench as Drissa Diallo and Richard Wood both failed late fitness tests. Mikkel Bischoff remained sidelined following an injury picked up against Burnley.
Norwich boss Nigel Worthington experimented with his side after defeat to Preston last weekend meant it was impossible for the Canaries to make the play-offs.
Michael Spillane was one of the lucky youngsters to make his first league start for the Canaries. Spillane replaced the experienced Craig Fleming at right-back in a new look 4-5-1 formation.
Worthington was forced into a last minute change as England 'keeper Robert Green was injured in the warm up. Ex-Owl Paul Gallacher replaced Green in goal and got a good reception from the Wednesday crowd.
The match of course fell on the 17th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster and both sets of supporters took part in a minute's silence before kick-off. The match was also put back by 15 minutes to make sure there was no play at 3.06pm - the time the tragic match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was abandoned.
City had been struggling on the road recently and had not recorded an away victory in 2006. The Canaries were backed by a decent sized following at Hillsborough though, after the club offered cheap coach travel for their loyal fans.
Despite the Owls controlling the opening exchanges in a desperate bid to pull away from the bottom three - it was the visitors who looked more deadly in attack. Although not creating any clear cut chances, the pace of Huckerby and Earnshaw in attack meant that Worthington's team continuosly tried through balls which would have caused trouble to the Owls defence.
The ebst chance of the opening exchange fell to Deon Burton though. Brunt seemed to be going nowhere on the right-wing but he somehow managed to carve out a cross with his right foot which was inch perfect for Burton. But the former Derby man's header was magnificently saved from Gallacher in the City goal.
At the other end though, a Huckerby corner kick caused havoc in the Wednesday boss and Jason Shakell nearly gave the visitors the lead but his header drifted just wide of Scott Carson's goal.
The match was end-to-end, with corners from City and Wednesday. A corner from Brunt nearly gave the Owls a surprising lead but Gallacher was on hand to tip his effort over the bar.
The best chance of the game came minutes later through a break from the pacy Darren Huckerby who left the chasing Yoann Folly for dead. Huckerby ran the length of the Owls half and was 1-on-1 with Carson in the Owls goal, but his pass to the supporting Henderson resulted in the offside flag being raised.
Wednesday got their lead, and what proved to be the winning goal, from a long ball by Burton O'Brien which put Marcus Tudgay through on goal. The former Derby man's initial shot was well stopped by Gallacher but his follow up header found the top corner of the net to give the Owls the lead right on the stroke of half-time.
The second half could prove to be one of the most vital in the Owls' season, despite it not being the best. Norwich started the second half the brighter of the two teams and had a golden opportunity to bag the equaliser on 55 minutes.
Henderson's header was well stopped by Carson in the Wednesday goal, before confusion in the Owls box nearly resulted in Robert Earnshaw netting the rebound before it was cleared to safety.
Boss Paul Sturrock decided changes needed to be made, and Steve Adams was sacrificed for Glenn Whelen as the hour approached. It was the first game back from injury for Adams - who looked to be struggling for fitness as the match progressed. Jon-Paul McGovern was also brought on for Brunt who huffed and puffed but struggled to make an impact on the game.
As the match wore on it looked more likely that the Owls would take all three vital points, and Deon Burton nearly made that a certainty when his long-range effort bounced off the bottom of the Norwich post to safety.
A neat pass from Jon-Paul McGovern then put Yoann Folly through down the right-hand side, and his dangerous cross nearly resulted in an own goal from the Canaries - but the sliced clearance went outfor a corner.
The majority of the 30,755 crowd pushed the Owls over the line by producing a magnificent atmosphere in the final ten minutes. The Owls did avoid a slight scare though when Dickson Etuhu lashed the ball accross the face of Scott Carson's goal, but thankfully the Norwich attack were off the pace.
The most important game of the season brought the second biggest crowd of the season to Hillsborough to see the Owls pretty much secure Championship football next season. It wasn't the prettiest of games, but the victory was all that mattered.
The Owls now travel to Brighton on Easter Monday hoping to reverse the heartbreaking defeat at the Withdean which saw the Owls relegated to League One.
The American right-back had probably the toughest game of his professional career against the lively Darren Huckerby but he coped with the former Leeds man well and seemed to love the competition. Was also positive going forward and produced some good crosses.
Paul Sturrock told BBC Sport
'When we've staggered over the finish line, I'll be a happy bunny but until then it's important that we focus.
'They battled today, they rolled their sleeves up and got in their faces and won their headers and 50-50s. When you do that you've always got a chance.'
Nigel Worthington told BBC Sport
'We've had two centre-halves getting tangled up for the goal and we've paid the price for it. We were good value and a draw would have been fair.'
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