SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY 1 - 1 BURTON ALBIONJackson Irvine's stunning strike secured a hugely impressive point at Hillsborough as promotion chasing Sheffield Wednesday were kept at bay in a tense Championship encounter.
The midfielder celebrated his 24th birthday in style with his ninth goal of the season, ironically in the 24th minute. It was arguably one of his finest finishes, a flashing left foot volley from outside the box beating Wednesday keeper Keiren Westwood before he could even react and going in off the post to cancel out an equally fine strike from Ross Wallace. The Scottish midfielder took aim from thirty plus yards and a fortunate bounce in front of keeper Jon McLaughlin helped his shot caress the inside of the post and give the hosts the lead just after the quarter of an hour mark.
Anyone who thought that Albion would cave in and go the same way as Norwich on Saturday, the Canaries going down 5-1 at Hillsborough at the weekend, were sadly mistaken and Irvine's strike, his first of the calendar year could not have come at a better time for Nigel Clough's men as they continue their fight against relegation from the second tier.
Wednesday bossed large parts of the game but once again the hugely resilient Albion back line did its job and repelled pretty much everything that was launched into the Burton box. It wasnt pretty at times but it was effective for sure and the Brewers can be mightily pleased to extend their unbeaten run to five games ahead of two crucial home fixtures against Nottingham Forest and Brentford ahead of the international break.
Albion showed three changes to the team that started against Bristol City on Saturday. Tom Naylor returned to the side and perhaps surprisingly, with the return of Kyle McFadzean, took up a role in the back four. McFadzean, after two substitute appearances following a toe injury, was deployed in a midfield five screening the back four. Luke Varney took over from Cauley Woodrow as the lone striker. John Mousinho and Luke Murphy were the other two to drop to the bench.
The Brewers settled quite quickly and had the first decent chance of the game on eight minutes. Patient build up on the right enabled Lasse Vigen Christensen to swing in a cross. Irvine got up well but was unable to get over the ball and at full stretch his header was never troubling the Wednesday keeper.
The Owls were quick to respond and after sweeping the ball out to Ross Wallace on the right, the Scot sent in a teasing cross that found it's way to Fernando Forestieri inside the six yard. The ball seemed to hit him and fortunately for Albion it fell to a yellow shirt to clear. Keeping the pressure on, the diminutive forward picked up the ball outside the box and worked room for a curling effort that Jon McLaughlin showed good hands to hold onto.
Barry Bannan was the next to try his luck from range as Albion packed out their defence when the hosts were in full flow. He picked up the ball slightly further out than Forestieri and lashed a dipping shot just wide of the upright as McLaughlin watched it go by.
It was a case of third time lucky for Wednesday as Wallace broke the deadlock on the quarter of an hour mark. There appeared little danger when the Scot drifted inside to pick up possession and from all of thirty yards fired in a peach of a shot that went in off the inside of the post. Even from that range there was nothing the Albion keeper could do to stop it despite a bounce and bobble making it awkward for him.
Marvin Sordell was twice denied by Westwood as the Brewers refused to lie down under the pressure from the hosts who seemed to going up the gears. The former Watford man was denied from long range as the keeper flung himself to his right and as Albion kept it alive Westwood foiled the Albion man again going to his left. ALbion though were to have the last laugh in this particular passage of play. The resulting corner was only cleared as far as IRVINE who launched himself at the ball crashing home a superb volley that, like Wallace's strike before it hit the inside of the post before nestling in the net. Westwood never even moved, it was that good. Yet another goal of the season contender from Albion's leading scorer.
Luke Varney had a good chance to make Albion's night even better just after the half hour mark, peeling off his marker to connect with a cross from John Brayford the ex-Owls front man got up well but was unable to guide a header on target.
Wednesday continued to push in an attempt to get back in front but disciplined defending, if a little stretched at time kept Wednesday at arms length and restricted to long range efforts in the main from both Forestieri and Bannan. The pace and movement that the hosts showed in working the ball out wide at speed was troubling the Brewers but they dealt effectively with whatever was thrown into their eighteen yard box.
Half time: Sheffield Wednesday 1-1 Burton Albion
Both sides came out for the second half with a zest to go and grab a second goal and seize the initiative. A loose pass from Sordell allowed the home side to counter but the Brewers were quick to get back in numbers and deny a real opportunity. McLaughlin doing well when Bannan curled in a shot from the edge of the box.
McFadzean was first into referee Peter Bankes book for a foul on Forestieri as Wednesday looked to launcha another attack. It took several minutes for the yellow card to be shown as the referee initially played an advantage and it took a while for the ball to actually go out of play and give Bankes the chance to administer the punishment.
Wednesday blinked first in terms of substitutions, Adam Reach called upon to replace the impressive Wallace. Former Albion loanee Sam Winnall was also replaced on 67 minutes as Wednesday opted to go for the more physical presence of Steven Fletcher as the spearhead of their attack. By now though Albion were being pushed further and further back as Wednesday found their flow again, particulartly in the wide areas.
McLaughlin was being tested more frequently in the second half, Fisting away a curling Forestieri effort off the outside of his boot and pushing away a long range effort from Reach. Jordan Rhodes also found room on the edge of the box to send in a shot that the Burton keeper clung onto at the second attempt.
Albion waited until twenty minutes were remaining to make their first change and it was Sordell that came off, Palmer coming on and moving into a central role as Christensen pushed out to the right hand side.
Reach was causing problems with his movement out wide to pick up the ball and he was almost the creator of a second for Wednesday with a booming cross that Turner headed over the bar under pressure. The Owls had shouts for handball as the resulting corner came in, referee Bankes not interested at all and as a second corner came in Forestieri attempted an audacious overhead effort that looped over the goal and missed the far post.
Bannan teased his way into a crossing position with eleven minutes left and as the ball fizzed through the box Rhodes missed an open goal at the back post. Albion need not have worried though as the assistant was flagging for offside.
In a rare second half attack Albion almost grabbed the lead with a little under ten minutes remaining. A long ball into the box wasnt particularly well dealt with by the Wednesday defence and Dyer was able to turn inside and lift a left foot shot over the target from ten yards out.
Wednesday made another attacking change introducing winger Will Buckley at the expense of Morgan Fox and Albion sent on Woodrow in place of Varney.
Palmer scuffed a shot disappointingly wide when Albion were well placed on the edge of the box and Forestieri went for goal from a bit further out but lashed wide as the frustration inside Hillsborough began to rise amongst the Yorkshire faithful.
It was a very nervy end to the 90 minutes as Wednesday continued to rain balls into the Burton box. With four minutes added on at the end it was far from game over as the promotion chasers, threw everything, kitchen sink included at the Burton defence. Amazingly Albion could possibly have snatched it right at the death when Westwood tried to show off his skills on the ball and almost got embarrassed with the final kick of the game.
The final whistle came as a blissful relief for Albion. What a point to take away from home to make it five unbeaten and four points out of six against one of the fancied teams for promotion from the Championship this season.