It was a tale of to two ex-Crewe strikers at Ashton Gate today as Wednesday’s Luke Varney cancelled out his former strike partner Nicky Maynard’s opener.
City went into the game as hot favorites on the back of two wins and an 18-game unbeaten run at the Gate whilst the Owls were ravaged by illness and injury whilst still reeling from a 4-1 drubbing by Watford live on the Sky camera’s last weekend. It all pointed to a home banker.
As expected, City manager Gary Johnson made only the one change with Cole Skuse taking the injured Bradley Orr’s place at right wing-back in an otherwise unchanged team from last week’s 3-2 win at Barnsley.
But it was Wednesday who started the brightest with ex-Ipswich midfielder Tommy Miller forcing Dean Gerken into an alert save from his stinging, low drive from 20-yards after only 2 minutes.
Marcus Tudgay then combined well with Varney in the City box on 8 with Varney hitting the post only to be denied by a linesman’s flag on the far side.
City were sluggish and slow to come out of the traps but Marvin Elliott nearly have us the lead against the run of play with a header from Danny Haynes’ cross, but he could only fire straight at Lee Grant. A yard either side and we would have been celebrating!
Nicky Maynard produced a smart turn and shot from the edge of the box that Grant got down to smartly before the livewire Jermaine Johnson struck wide off the post at the other end.
The first half’s real drama came in the dying moments of the first period though.
Lewin Nyatanga produced a brilliant tackle to stop Varney from having a clear chance on goal and Louis Carey came from nowhere to fantasticly block Johnson’s tap-in at the far stick.
In truth, we were extremely lucky to go into the break with the scores still level as Wednesday had carved out the better chances.
With that in mind, it came as no surprise that Gary Johnson rang the changes at half time. He replaced his inept son Lee with Paul Hartley – a change that was both being called for by the East End during the first half and should have been in place from the start – whilst Alvaro Saborio replaced Louis Carey, who took a whack in the first 45.
That meant a change of formation. Johnson switched from the 3-5-2 to a 4-3-3 with Haynes pushed wider on the right to accomodate Saborio and almost immediately it paid dividends.
Hartley pinged a quickly taken free-kick 60-yards up field to Maynard, whose first touch was excellent, but was caught between the two Owls centre backs.
But on 59 minutes the goal the game so craved arrived.
In a goal-mouth scramble, Saborio and Maynard competed for the same ball before it popped loose for Maynard to lift over Grant from eight yards for his TENTH goal of the season.
Straight after that, Evander Sno sent a curler just round the post as City sought to kill off the visitors.
Leon Clarke, on for Tommy Miller by this point, hustled his way into the box before testing Gerken with an angled drive which he could only palm away but the equaliser was coming and so it arrived on 75.
Tudgay sent Luke Varney racing through on goal and, despite appearing to have hold of Nyatanga’s shirt, Maynard’s ex-strike partner kept his composure to rifle a clinical, low drive past Gerken for a deserved leveller.
Moments later, the lively Varney sent a low drive fizzing across goal from a seemingly impossible angle, which Gerken was adjudged to brilliantly have tipped wide.
City responded with Haynes firing straight at Grant from distance and Elliott heading over from McAllister’s deep cross from the left.
Then in the dying moments, Evander Sno hit a swerving rocket of a shot from the edge of the area which Grant did well to keep out before Leon Clarke almost won with a delicate chip that produced another fine save from Gerken.
CITY 3-5-2: Gerken, Carey (Saborio 46), McCombe, Nyatanga, Skuse, Elliott, L. Johnson (Hartley 46), Sno, McAllister, Haynes (Sproule 80), Maynard.
OWLS 4-5-1: Grant, Simek, Hinds, Buxton, Spurr, Miller (Clarke 65), Porter, O’Connor, J. Johnson, Varney, Tudgay.
REFEREE: Fred Graham (Essex)
Dean Gerken 8
Made three or four superb stops to keep Wednesday at bay, including two in the second half, but had no chance with the equaliser.
Cole Skuse 8
Tackled brilliantly, covered well and was tactically switched on in an unfamiliar position at right-wing back and then right-back.
Jamie McAllister 6
Not his best performance but gave a solid account of himself down the left. Tried to get forward but to no avail and produced the odd bit of class with a set piece.
Lewin Nyatanga 7
Looked to have been fouled by Varney for the equaliser and made some crucial tackles in the first half. Looked shaky when Carey went off though.
Jamie McCombe 5
Looked ok in the defensive three but was hopelessly exposed when in a flat-back four in the second period. Headed well but not much else.
Louis Carey 7
Like Nyatanaga, Carey also made some vital challenges to keep the scores level in the first half. His authority at the back was missed in the second half when he went off with an injury.
Evander Sno 7
Rarely gave the ball away in midfield and was always an outlet. Understandably struggled with the tactical switch after the break, when he wound up on the left, but was unlucky with a fierce long range drive late on.
Lee Johnson 3
Very poor performance and deservedly subbed at half time. Offered nothing in the tackle or going forward and didn’t pass the ball as well as he can do. Strange selection in the first place.
Marvin Elliott 7
Showed signs he’s getting back to his form of yester-year with an energetic display in the engine room. Ran hard for the cause and broke up play to good effect.
Nicky Maynard 8
Another lively performance from our 10-goal top scorer. Came close with a few long range efforts before scoring a rare poachers strike to open the scoring.
Danny Haynes 7
Always looked hungry for the cause, both in pressing the play and with his direct running and played with a lot of confidence. Not as much of a threat as he can be though.
Paul Hartley 7
Our play improved with him in the team and his set pieces were top drawer. Sprayed the ball around with ease but I’m very concerned with rumours tonight suggesting he’s put in a transfer request after hearing he was benched again today.
Alvaro Saborio 5
Had enough time to make an impact but is clearly still struggling to adapt to life at this level. Showed a bit of physical prowess but that was it.
Late sub to try and get some much needed width but didn’t happen for him. Too weak to make an impression on the game.
GARY JOHNSON – 5/10
Got his team selection wrong with the inclusion of his boy at the expense of Hartley but at least showed bottle to correct it at the break. We looked unorganised and disjointed for long periods though and seriously lacking width. Needs to tinker slightly with his line-up.
BRIAN LAWS – 8/10
I was impressed with Laws. He was down to the bare bones with his squad but has his side set up to hit us on the counter and he was tactically spot on. On another day, Wednesday would’ve scored 3 or 4 if luck had gone their way.
A Point Gained, Not Two Lost
Asides from a 20 minute spell after the break, we were very poor today. The team looked disjointed from the off, for whatever reason.
Fans will undoubtedly view this as two points lost, but in the context of the game and how we played today it should definitely be viewed as a point gained.
We could’ve and should’ve lost by 3 or 4 goals to 1 on another day.
Nicky Maynard fired his tenth goal today in what’s proving to be a remarkable season for the youngster but it was great to see him get a scrappy goal for a change.
That’s not a criticism of the boy, he’s one of my favourite players, but his 9 other goals have been exquisite finishes from half chances and he’s been missing the tap-in’s.
We’re not even into November yet and the striker looks odds-on to fire 20+ this year, if he can avoid injury.
I just pray to God that we can keep hold of him for as long as possible because he’s the best striker we’ve had in a very long time.