An injury stricken Exeter City fought tooth and nail against an automatic promotion contender, going down 2-1 at Hillsborough to Sheffield Wednesday.
After a fast-paced first half which saw no goals, the second half saw plenty of action. Josh Key opened the scoring after two second half minutes, but the home side didn’t sit back and two goals from Lee Gregory and Callum Paterson saw the title contenders keep all three points in South Yorkshire.
With injuries and niggles blighting the Grecians, Gary made two changes to the side that lost to Derby, with players shuffling positions also. Coming into the starting XI were Jack Sparkes and Josh Coley, with the latter getting only his second start of the season. Key, alongside Josh Coley - neither of whom are recognised strikers - led the line as Caldwell made the most of his depleted squad.
With the game starting quite slowly inside the opening ten minutes for both, the first chance of the game fell to Wednesday’s talisman Barry Bannan. After Sparkes, heavily misplaced a back pass, the Owls were awarded a corner, it was played short to Bannan who struck from range, but the strike was mis-hit and went wide of the far post.
With just over 15 minutes on the clock, there was a long stoppage as referee Declan Bourne went down with an injury, so a changeover in official was needed. Andy Haines was now the man overseeing proceedings.
City almost took the lead only minutes after the official changeover, the break in play causing Wednesday to lose some of their momentum. Down the left-hand side came Hartridge with Sparkes and Coley in tow. After the three combined the ball was played to Key who laid it off to Sparkes, but his fancy flick was only good enough for the side netting. City were starting to become more involved.
Gone half-an-hour and the Wednesday fans were really starting to hear themselves heard, with the deafening noise erupting every time Wednesday played the ball back rather than going forward. This was working well for City as they were able to press the Wednesday defence at every given chance.
Both teams were struggling with their finishing, as it took gone half-an-hour for either side to register a shot on target. That came from Key, as the right wing back turned centre forward struck from range, testing ex-City shot stopper Cameron Dawson for the first time in the Wednesday goal.
No sooner had the stand-in fourth official announced six minutes added on did Wednesday have their first shot on target. On the edge of his own area, City captain Aimson dawdled on the ball for too long, inviting the pressure of two Wednesday attackers, one of them being Gregory who pounced on Aimson's mistake, however, to City’s rescues came Blackman, as the keeper made a fantastic save down to his right to keep it at 0-0.
With the home side desperate to match the result of their promotion rivals, and early second half goal would be pivotal to dictating the play. With only two minutes of the second half, that goal came, but it was for ther Grecians.
Coley, on only his second start of the season. found Caprice who raced down the right before, with one look up, lifted the ball towards the box and there in waiting was Key with a striker’s instinct heading the ball between Dawson's legs to make it 1-0.
The home crowd were becoming inreasingly restless and City could have doubled the lead just a minute later. City weren’t stopping there as they picked up the ball from a loose Wednesday pass and sent the ball up to Key who flicked it on to Coley. Baring down on goal, it was Coley against Dawson, but the Wednesday keeper stood strong and made an excellent reflex save.
Then came Wednesday with an attack for themselves, City’s defence seemed to be in no man’s land as a ball into the City penalty area, aimed for Michael Smith, found Liam Palmer at the back post but he was unable to equalise as an unlucky bounce led to him scuffing his shot wide.
Wednesday boss Darren Moore saw it fit to make his first change of the game after going a goal behind and the player sacrificed was Aden Flint with the centre half replaced by a central midfielder by way of Dennis Adeniran.
That change prompted an almost immediate equaliser for Wednesday, they were awarded a free kick about 35 yards out after Collins was adjudged to have committed a foul. The Owls took the free kick quickly and with that Bannan sent a ball into the middle for Gregory to head in unchallenged past Blackman.
Since both the goals, the game had completely opened up for both sides and for City came another chance, again it was Key latching onto the end of another Caprice cross, but this time Key mistimed his jump and headed wide.
After all the City second half pressure, it was the home side who took the lead going into the final 15 minutes. A cross into the City penalty area was only partially cleared by Sweeney, and with that the ball was sent back into the six-yard line and with an outstretched leg, Callum Paterson stabbed the ball home.
The next game for City is another long away trip to the east coast as the Grecians head to Portman Road to take on Ipswich Town on Saturday 29th April.
Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson, Palmer, Iorfa, Flint (Adeniran), Brown (Ihiekwe), Johnson, Vaulks, Bannan, Paterson, Gregory (Bakinson), Smith
Subs not used: Stockdale, Dele-Bashiru, Shipston, Durrant
City: Blackman, Caprice, Sweeney, Aimson © (Grounds), Hartridge, Sparkes (Borges), Kite, Collins (White), Chauke, Key, Coley (Cox)
Subs not used: Woods, Harper,
Referee: Declan Bourne (Andy Haines)
Attendance: 26,046 (939 away)