Wednesday 3-3 Saints
23/12/06 - 15:00
MARK CROSSLEY was the unlikely hero for the Owls as Brian Laws' rejuvinated side came from 3-1 down to take a share of the spoils against a Southampton side who were probably the best team to visit Hillsborough this season.
The former Nottingham Forest man was on hand to head home a bullet header deep in to time added-on to give the Owls some festive cheer - in a match which he so nearly missed through a niggling injury.
Wednesay boss Brian Laws made just one change to his side that lost so heavily against Birmingham last weekend with the suspended Glenn Whelan to return to the centre of midfield and Yoann Folly pushing out wide with Wayne Andrews dropped to the bench through injury.
And Wednesday's determination to bounce straight back from last weekend's dissapointing defeat against Birmingham showed in the opening stages of the match as they took the game to their in-form opponents.
Frankie Simek had an early shout for a penalty after the highly-rated Gareth Bale brought the right-back down inside the box after some good interplay down the right-hand side - but the referee waved away the protests and pointed for a corner.
And from the resulting corner Chris Brunt swung a superb cross in to the box which missed the Wednesday heads but almost crept in under the bar only to see it hit the woodwork and bounce to safety to the relief of Saints stopper Kelvin Davies.
The game proved to be a Christmas cracker with chances being created at either end to provide an entertaining clash for the near 24,000 crowd who braved the freezing Hillsborough conditions.
George Burley's men were to prove to be one of the best teams the Owls have faced this season with the highly-rated Gareth Bale causing Wednesday problems down the left-hand side and Championship top-scorer Grzegorz Rasiak and former Owl Kenwyne Jones looking troublesome in attack.
And their quality shone through as they created a goal from nothing as Bale produced a pin-point pass to allow Rasiak the time and space to turn and launch an unstoppable effort in to the roof of Mark Crossley's net to give the visitors the early lead.
And things were made worse for Wednesday after just 26 minutes as Owls old-boy Kenwyne Jones rose to head Jermaine Wright's corner over the line.
Wednesday seemed to be struggling with the strength of the two Saints forwards - and with the superb set pieces being delivered around the Wednesday box, Southampton looked easily capable of adding to their total and making Wednesday pay for their missed chances for the second week in a row.
But where Wednesday may well have crumbled in the past, their new-found resiliance shone through as the improved Glenn Whelan broke free just a minute later after a neat Marcus Tudgay pass to produce a fine finish by Davies and reduce the deficit.
The goal lifted the Owls and Laws' men created numerous chances in front of goal before the break to level the scores through Chris Brunt and a superb Frank Simek effort which went just wide of Davies' goal minutes before the break.
Half-Time: Wednesday 1-2 Southampton
Wednesday fans could have breathed a sigh of relief after hearing that Kenwyne Jones was to be substituted at half-time - until they heared his replacement, Bradley Wright-Phillips was coming on.
Wright-Phillips added something different for the Wednesday defence to deal with in the second-half in pace, and it was the former Manchester City strike who restored the Saints 2-goal cushion after the break as he slotted home from close-range after a Rasiak cross.
The goal flattened the Wednesday crowd and players alike and Southampton looked to be cruising to another victory to lift them further up the Championship table.
The match turned in to a scrappy affair and it was going to take something special to give Wednesday hope - and that duly came through Glenn Whelan as he netted his second of the afternoon with a superb volley from the edge of the box which looped over Davies and lifted the Hillsborough faithful.
Wednesday's heads lifted and the pressure poured on to Kelvin Davies' goal as Chris Baird got in the way of a Steve Maclean effort before Davies made a world-class save to deny Madjid Bougherra what was sure to be a goal of the season contender with a brilliant overhead kick.
But as Wednesday continued to press forward in search of the equaliser they left gaps at the back which were exposed by the Saints, and in particular Wright-Phillips who found space to blaze over before forcing Crossley in to a smart save to keep the Owls in the game.
As the clock ran down Chris Brunt won a corner for the Owls in the final minute of play.
The Owls bench waved Crossley forward as a last-ditch attempt to grab something from the game - and as Brunt's cross floated in the on-loan Fulham stopper leapt highest and nodded the ball in to the back of the net to send Hillsborough barmy.
Full-Time: Wednesday 3-3 Southampton
Wednesday: Crossley; Simek, Bougherra, Bullen, Spurr; Folly (Andrews 58), Whelan, Lunt, Brunt; Burton (MacLean 62), Tudgay. Subs: Adamson, Coughlan, O'Brien.
Saints: Davis; Ostlund, Baird, Lundekvam (Viafara h-t), Bale; Surman, Pele, Wright, Skacel; Rasiak, Jones (Wright-Phillips h-t). Subs: Bialkowski, Dyer, Idiakez.