Sheffield Wednesday 1-2 Ipswich Town: Waghorn brace secures back-to-back wins for Blues
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Martyn Waghorn ended his scoring drought in style as his brace ensured Ipswich punished an out-of-form Sheffield Wednesday side at Hillsborough.
The former Rangers man headed into the game on a run of 15 matches without a goal, swept home just six minutes into the second half as he latched onto Callum Connolly’s neat header from a Freddie Sears cross to give his side the lead before Lucas Joao levelled for the hosts.
But, as it began to look as if the visitors were going to let a Wednesday side in freefall off the hook, Waghorn swept home a free-kick from a tight angle to secure three points.
The victory gave Mick McCarthy’s men just their second back-to-back success since August, following the victory at Preston 10 days ago, and means they are unbeaten on the road in five games, stretching back to January 2.
It wasn’t always pretty, but the hosts profited from a Hillsborough side shorn of many of their leading lights due to injury, and ensured a side horribly low on confidence were unable to get back to winning ways as the Owls’ run of defeats was extended to five.
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The victory leaves the Blues 12th in the Championship table, seven points off the play-off places but with a game in hand on many of those above them.
Mick McCarthy made two changes to the side that beat Preston last time out, bringing in Jordan Spence for Dominic Iorfa at right back and Luke Hyam for Joe Garner, which allowed the Blues to play a compact central midfield three.
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The formation gave Mustapha Carayol the freedom to prowl behind lone striker Waghorn, but the Preston match-winner saw little of the ball early on as the game settled into a midfield slug fest during the opening 15 minutes.
The first chance came as Carayol broke free to charge forward, before laying it off to Waghorn to shoot wide, but just as the winger began to hit his stride he was forced to exit early as he hobbled off with what appeared to be a groin injury.
Freddie Sears came on in his place, but the Blues were soon on the back foot and got out of jail after Atdhe Nuhiu’s point-black volley was kept out of the net by Bartosz Bialkowski’s face.
From there the Blues began to compose themselves and worked the ball into attacking positions, with two Waghorn deliveries causing problems before a long-range effort from Carter-Vickers flew wide.
The murmurs of discontent amongst the home crowd began to grow as the game reached half-time, before the Blues made a strong start to the second half to ensure the atmosphere soured further.
The boos were already sounding before the visitors went ahead, as Glenn Loovens misjudged a long ball forward, allowing Sears to pounce and fire a cross to the back post where an unmarked Connolly was on hand to head across for an unmarked Waghorn to sweep home.
The defensive errors kept coming but Ipswich were unable to take advantage further, as the hosts began to find their feet again.
Lucas Joao, on at the break in place of ineffective former Blues youngster Jordan Rhodes, was beginning to find space both in midfield and in behind, tangling with Carter-Vickers in the penalty area before being told to get to his feet by referee Oliver Langford.
The Portuguese forward continued to cause the Blues backline trouble and, as he danced into the box and dazzled Webster with tricky footwork, he beat the Ipswich defender before curling his effort into the bottom corner to bring his side level.
Ipswich had shouts for a penalty turned away after Loovens, who struggled all night, was beaten by substitute Grant Ward before appearing to clip the former Tottenham man’s heels, but they were soon back in front.
Waghorn was chopped down by Fox on the edge of the area and, from a tight angle, he swept the ball home into the top corner to delight the travelling fans.
There were a few nervous moments as time ticked down, but the Blues had clearly learnt their lesson from the reverse fixture in November as they kept the ball in the corner to avoid a repeat of Nuhiu’s heartbreaking equaliser at Portman Road.
Sheffield Wednesday: Wildsmith; Lees, Loovens, Fox; Palmer, Boyd; Jones, Butterfield Reach; Rhodes (Joao 46), Nuhiu
Subs: Dawson, Pudil, Venancio, Abdi, Pelupessy, Preston
Ipswich Town: Bialkowski; Spence, Carter-Vickers, Chambers, Webster, Knudsen; Hyam (Ward 74), Connolly, Skuse; Carayol (Sears 25), Waghorn (Garner 89)
Subs: Crowe, Iorfa, Gleeson, Celina