Football loves a narrative, doesn’t it? Wednesday were over 10 hours of football without a goal when Anthony Musaba burst into the Rotherham box, his strike was saved, of course, because there was only one man who could end the drought in front of the Millers faithful.
Smith’s first effort was scuffed, but you can’t give the first Owl to get 20 goals in a season two bites of the cherry in the six-yard box, and with his second effort he prodded home. The joy was obvious, the relief at Hillsborough palpable, and – most importantly – as ‘Smudga’ shushed those that had called him a w***er just a few moments earlier, the hosts deserved it.
The improvement under Danny Röhl has been obvious, even in the defeats to Watford and Plymouth Argyle, the difference on Sunday was that they were able to put their chances away.
A moment’s silence was held before the game to mark the tragic passing of Nottingham Panthers player, Adam Johnson, following his tragic passing in an awful accident down the road against the Sheffield… It was observed magnificently as one sporting code paid tribute to a fallen hero from another.
From the silence, though, came a roar. Owls captain, Barry Bannan, had urged for noise as he ran to applaud the Kop before kick off, and the Wednesday faithful brought it. 29,038 were present, and those in Owls colours made sure that Röhl got a warm welcome.
And the players didn’t let it go to waste. From the off they were on it, pressing hard, working the ball well, and immediately there was a feeling that today could finally to be the day to get something in the ‘Wins’ column.
Then, with 10 minutes played, Bannan found Musaba - it was inch perfect… His effort was saved but he scrambled it to Smith and at the second attempt he prodded home. When you’ve gone as long as Wednesday have without a goal then who cares how it goes in?
And it was no fluke. Wednesday had found their groove, and as the first half went on they stamped their authority on the tie. A back three of Dominic Iorfa, Bambo Diaby and Di’Shon Bernard were solid, Iorfa/Bernard driving forward on occasion and Diaby using his physicality to boss matters at the back – in front of them, playing as a six, George Byers dominated.
Reece James, back into the left wingback role he played so well last season, was busy as he got up and down one side, and Callum Paterson bulldozed his way along the right as he once again proved his worth and keep their momentum.
Josh Windass, who seemed to cover every blade of grass, could’ve had an assist and a goal if somebody had got onto his delightful ball across the six-yard box after 23 minutes and he’d managed to finish off a fantastic move that he struck over with just over half an hour gone. The Owls’ number 11 is coming alive under the new gaffer.
Some had wondered if, like oftentimes before, they’d be left to rue that chance – but Wednesday weren’t losing this one. Moments later Iorfa found Paterson, and his tremendous ball sent Musaba free again, he cut onto this left towards an onrushing fastest man in Yorkshire who prodded it to Smith. He doesn’t miss those, and Viktor Johansson was beaten again. The boos from behind his goal had quietened a touch.
Half time came and went, Röhl no doubt asking for more of the same in the second stanza, and though the chances were fewer and further between, Wednesday remained fully in control. Will Vaulks was the first change, coming on as the German no doubt looks to manage Byers, while John Buckley followed him onto the pitch 10 minutes later for Musaba – both received big standing ovations from three corners in S6.
‘Danny, Danny Röhl’ came the chant, his fine work in such a short space of time greatly appreciated by those of a Wednesday persuasion, and though the Owls weren’t able to add to their tally they kept the visitors at arm’s length in a way that has rarely been seen in 2023/24.
Pol Valentin and Djeidi Gassama were introduced with 10 minutes to play, giving fans a chance to offer a huge round of applause to Paterson and Windass after their efforts, but it also meant that Marvin Johnson – back on the bench after a late registration – would have to wait for his chance. As would young Bailey Cadamarteri.
Smith, enjoying a fruitful reunion with his old club, was named as Man of the Match as he continued to press even in the dying moments. His pressure as the official held up four minutes of added time was indicative of the effort he’d put in.
Sebastian Revan fired wide of Cameron Dawson’s goal not long after, but it was the closest the Millers had come all day. The final whistle went, a weight had been lifted, and while Wednesday remain rooted to the bottom of the Championship there is a sense that fans are allowing a bit of optimism to creep in again.
There’s a result in the column that matters, and as Daddy Cool rang out of the speakers Hillsborough felt alive again.