Forty seven days on from their heartbreaking Wembley experience, Sheffield Wednesday returned to action at non league Alfreton Town last night.
Dan Bradley’s late header cancelled out Barry Bannan’s 56th minute thunderbolt as the Owls were forced to settle for a draw in their opening pre-season friendly.
The final scoreline will not overly concern Owls boss Carlos Carvalhal as it is still early days. Indeed, there were some big positives.
Summer signing Steven Fletcher showed some neat touches and came close to capping an promising first outing with a goal. He seemed to strike up a partnership with Gary Hooper, which bodes well for the future.
In the absence of club captain Glenn Loovens, Tom Lees put in an assured performance at the heart of their rearguard. Youngsters Jack Lee and George Hirst also got some valuable minutes under their belt.
Carvalhal said: “I was happy with a lot of things and the way we moved the ball. Alfreton stayed compact and made things difficult for us.
“We aren’t doing the mistakes we did one year ago. We are starting the process again and will correct our mistakes. We will be in better physical condition in the future. It was a very good game for the players and I’m happy with how we played.”
Watched on by chairman Dejphon Chansiri, Wednesday created the first meaningful opportunity, with Atdhe Nuhiu’s diving header deflected behind following a lovely delivery by Kieran Lee.
The visitors enjoyed the lion-share of the possession but Alfreton posed a threat on the counter attack. Former Rotherham United man Andy Monkhouse tried his luck from long range and his right foot piledrive tested the reflexes of Joe Wildsmith, who was playing against his old club.
Alfreton grew in confidence as the half wore on and Ryan Wilson’s dangerous cross drifted agonisingly off target before Dan Bradley fired wide when well-placed.There were several periods where the Owls looked vulnerable defensively.
While some of Wednesday’s approach play was slick and pleasing on the eye, their final ball repeatedly let them down. Hence why they failed to seriously test Fabian Spiess in the opening 45 minutes.
Carvalhal mixed things up at the interval, making nine alterations. Only centre-back pairing Tom Lees and Sam Hutchinson were handed more game time. Carvalhal experimented with his personnel, playing Liam Palmer at left-back and Lewis McGugan on the left wing.
Bannan’s exquisite 25-yard strike, which gave Spiess no chance, sparked the Owls into life and Fletcher wasted two glorious opportunities to increase their advantage.
With 10 minutes remaining, Bannan delivered the pass of the match, sending Gary Hooper clean through only for the striker to shoot into the side-netting. It proved a costly miss as Bradley equalised in the closing stages. It was a good workout for Wednesday, although there is still plenty of room for improvement with less than a month to go before the serious stuff begins again.
*Wednesday’s trip to Birmingham City on Saturday, September 17, has been put back to 5:30pm after being selected for Sky television coverage.
Wednesday first half: Wildsmith; Hunt, Lees, Hutchinson, Helan; Lee, Semedo, Matias, Wallace; Nuhiu, Joao.
Wednesday second half: Dawson; Vermijl, Lees, Hutchinson (Lee 75), Palmer; Sougou, McGugan, Melo (Hirst 86), Bannan; Fletcher, Hooper.