Hillsborough played host to the EFL Championship’s curtain-opener on Friday night, as two teams looked to mark their return to the second division with a win – with Southampton taking on Sheffield Wednesday.
SHW: Dawson; Famewo, Ihiekwe, Iorfa, Paterson; Windass, Bakinson, Bannan, Vaulks, Delgado; Gregory
SOU: Bazunu; Manning, Stephens, Bednarek, Walker-Peters; Alcaraz, Ward-Prowse, Smallbone; Edozie, Armstrong, Tella
Hillsborough was rocking as Wednesday returned to the second division, and The Owls flew out of the starting gates in response. On the five-minute mark, Barry Bannan squirmed a low drive to the right, with the ball coming back out to Juan Delgado, and then Lee Gregory as both shots were blocked. The crescendo was finally complete when Callum Paterson blasted over, and Southampton’s Premier League credentials looked evident as they rode the early storm.
Shortly after, this nature of professionalism was reinforced as they snatched the lead on eight minutes. Nathan Tella received the ball on the right and moved inside, opening his body and firing across goal. It floated and curled beyond a helpless Cameron Dawson, and Tella wheeled away – yet on second viewing, it showed a clear deflection off of a ducking Adam Armstrong, who would ultimately be credited with the goal.
With Wednesday on their heels after this, Southampton moved forward – seemingly without breaking a sweat. Possession was the watch word reverberating around social media, with BBC Sport’s live blog claiming ‘Southampton are passing Sheffield Wednesday to death!’
Charly Alcaraz was the next to go close for the Saints – firing just past the base of the right post from outside the hosts’ box after 24 minutes. The half hour mark saw numerous bookings, as Wednesday chased the ball in what was becoming a one-sided affair.
The last real action of the first period saw the home side scrambling, and it should’ve been 0-2 as Dawson was found wanting – yet Jack Stephens’ effort was cleared off the line.
The second half saw the hosts turn the momentum in front of the infamous Kop end. This early pressure nearly prevailed too, as ‘keeper Gavin Bazunu looked shaken, hunted down after a dubious back pass. Bazunu was left watching his posts once more as a long Will Vaulks throw was flicked on, just missing Josh Windass at the back.
The next attempt finally bore fruit. A corner from the left was nodded back across goal, and a primed Lee Gregory was waiting – slamming the ball low and hard to even the score after 54 minutes.
Dutchman Anthony Musaba brought a new dynamic to Wednesday’s play, but it was Southampton who had the next real chance. Breaking out of a scrappy twenty or so minutes, Stuart Armstrong flew forward and his effort from range strayed wide of the top right corner – it was a speculative strike to say the least.
The minutes dripped by and it looked more likely that this clash in the Steel City would end level – however James Ward-Prowse had other ideas. He was calm to fizz an excellent ball back across from the right. Che Adams was hovering and tapped home much to the sheer adulation of the travelling faithful.
Those travelling fans would’ve been perhaps a little nervous to see nine minutes of added time. Yet, as many sang ‘we’re top of the league’, Russell Martin’s first game in charge of the Saints ended in victory.