by Chris Brookes
League One Sheffield Wednesday overcame Championship West Ham United at Hillsborough in the Third Round of the FA Cup this Sunday afternoon and the goal hero could not have been a more deserving recipient.
Striker Chris O’Grady had only three goals from his first 19 appearances for the club before today but his unerring endeavour and selfless work for his teammates means that everyone connected with The Owls rejoiced in unison at his headline-grabbing winner.
Sam Allardyce gave an opportunity to defender Daniel Potts (son of ex-Hammers captain Steve) and although the absence of the likes of Kevin Nolan and Carlton Cole detracted a little from the authenticity, there was more than enough quality in the visitors’ line-up.
Wednesday were without outstanding winger Ben Marshall as his nearly-expired loan from Stoke City continues to dominate the fans’ thoughts, refused permission from his parent club for this one.
Arsenal youngster Sanchez Watt was also ineligible, the forward’s absence further reducing Owls boss Gary Megson’s attacking options, evidenced by full-backs Julian Bennett and James Tavernier’s appearances on the wings.
The first-half overall had little in the way of spark but both sides did at least manage to threaten, Tavernier, Jermaine Johnson and Danny Batth all going close for Wednesday while the willing yet goal-shy Freddie Sears misjudged a great headed opportunity for the Londoners.
My view as a home supporter at half-time was that the game was still waiting to come to life and while Gary O’Neil, back from all his injury trouble, struck me as a possible instigator for the away team, I felt we were equally capable of causing them trouble.
The reaction of his teammates said it all, jubilantly congratulating the ex-Rochdale favourite
In the 48th-minute referee Keith Stroud awarded West Ham a penalty, deeming defender Reda Johnson’s challenge on New Zealand international Winston Reid in front of the travelling Hammers fans worthy of the spot-kick.
Ex-MK Dons striker Sam Baldock, who would also later hit the post, stepped up and put the ball to Nicky Weaver’s right but the man who watched Wednesday’s Wembley exploits in this competition as a fan in 1993 denied him superbly.
Big John Carew, an absolute menace on his day, was hugely ineffectual and was ironically cheered by the away supporters when he was substituted after the hour, dealt with during his time on the pitch by home skipper Rob Jones.
Miscommunication in West Ham’s defence led to a hasty clearance under pressure by Belgian keeper Ruud Boffin and hinted at a real opportunity for the home side to knock out a slightly disjointed visiting team.
Wednesday’s powerful frontman O’Grady had toiled away with his usual hard work, battling with Winston Reid, and he would be the hero with an 88th-minute strike to settle the tie.
After breaking free in the box he fired a low effort beyond Boffin to delight the Hillsborough faithful, a joyous moment for O’Grady scoring what would be the winner in front of the Kop.
The reaction of his teammates said it all, jubilantly congratulating the ex-Rochdale favourite who has been an undeniably vital cog (as his initials indicate) in an Owls team currently 2nd in League One.
He had displayed his excellent strength all game and a moment late on epitomised this, with three West Ham players desperately challenging him by the corner flag the Nottingham-born striker shrugged them all off without any problem, even winning a free-kick to alleviate the pressure on his team.
It should not be seen as any kind of ‘giant-killing’; West Ham are a great club, steeped in tradition, but so are Sheffield Wednesday.
Last month Wednesday conceded a 97th-minute equaliser to Huddersfield to draw 4-4 (hard to take with only five minutes added on and no major stoppages in injury time) so to see ELEVEN additional minutes was not too welcome this time!
The reason for this was an earlier collision between home players Julian Bennett and Clinton Morrison which resulted in Bennett being stretchered into an ambulance, although Megson has suggested the extent of the damage is a facial injury.
At the final whistle, it was the great feeling that goes with any Wednesday win but it should not be seen as any kind of ‘giant-killing’; West Ham are a great club, steeped in tradition, but so are Sheffield Wednesday.
For those a touch older than myself who remember Chris Waddle terrorising West Ham in the Premiership, the suggestion of this being a scalp will certainly not be accepted by them.
Nevertheless though this was very enjoyable to win and indicative of the continuing progress the club is making on and off the field under Milan Mandaric, Megson et al.
The reward is a trip to another second-tier team in the next round, Ian Holloway’s Blackpool who dispatched neighbours Fleetwood Town this weekend.
However far we make it in the FA Cup this year, Wednesday are building considerably with promotion a real possibility, it is just great to be part of positivity at a club that deserves it as much as any.
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