Improved but utterly unconvincing, Town’s crawl to safety inched a little closer with a performance not lacking in effort but largely devoid of inspiration and entirely devoid of the currency desperately needed in a relegation battle.
A bright start predictably faded against a tame Wednesday side unable to replicate their excellent win in London on Saturday but who, nevertheless, created opportunities to pick up 3 points in a game of little quality.
Town have Lössl to thank for a point which, with other results mostly helping their cause, puts them in a slightly better position mathematically but with a nervous eye on St Andrews where Charlton face a Birmingham City side who, incredibly, managed to concede 3 goals to the Terriers in a result which looks less remarkable as the season bores on.
A very good save from Odubajo on the half hour was eclipsed by a quite outstanding one just before the break as Harris curled an excellent effort which was pushed around the post by the on loan Dane, reminiscent of his stop which won a game against Newcastle United in those early, heady Premier League days which are so very distant now.
For all their possession and efforts in an opening 15 minutes where they were dominant in possession and not unintelligent with it, Town mustered one genuine effort when Smith-Rowe, who had a good first half before fading alarmingly later, sent a decent chance wide. Still, the visitors showed more enterprise and positive intent than they had against Luton, though it was difficult to imagine how they could not.
Pinned back, the Owls’ couldn’t find any sort of rhythm in the first quarter but Town, parched by a long drought, rarely looked capable of scoring in their purple patch which, in any case, came to an end at the first water break.
Alarmingly wide spaces, notably on Town’s left flank, began to open up and the early grip they held on proceedings evaporated to the point that the half time whistle was a blessed relief.
In the second quarter – the mandated refreshments during each half is turning us in to the NFL without the dancing girls and product placement – Town lost their concentration and very nearly their way. Stilted forays forward, undermined by hesitancy and an unwelcome return to the safety first style which blighted the Luton fiasco, diminished the already barely perceptible threat we now haul around the pitch like an elderly donkey, with the highlight being a Grant shot which went for a throw.
With Lössl’s late, excellent save, parity was preserved and with a record of just one recovery from going a goal down in this putrid season (an affliction stretching way back to Wagner days) it may prove as important as his Stamford Bridge intervention though there is precious little evidence that salvation, should it come, will not pan out just as badly.
The game appeared to swing back in the visitors’ direction after the break for a short while and, finally, a chance was created for Grant in an area in which he has excelled during his brief Town career. Hogg was the unlikely source with an incisive ball forward which the leading scorer latched on to, beat a defender and instinctively struck a good effort just wide.
Shortly afterwards, Grant nearly turned provider with a cross which should have been a gift for Mounié but Lees managed to block the header and extend Town’s blight in front of goal.
Wednesday made two changes after the scares with Pelupessy and Da Cruz providing a more muscular approach to the home side’s faltering efforts. Both added energy and Town’s brief ascendence was subdued. Lössl was forced in to a smart save by Luongo and with Bannon threatening to influence the contest rather more than he had in the first half, nerves began to jangle.
Overall, however, neither set of players could truly exert sustained quality and attrition reasserted itself. Lees for Wednesday and Stearman for Town were the pick of the respective rear guard actions, but it was the visitors who spurned the best second half opportunity.
Toffolo, recovering some of the form which seemed to have deserted him post hiatus and perhaps adversely influenced by Grant’s woeful displays, burst down the left and played in a teasing and seemingly perfect ball in to the box, only for recently arrived substitute Campbell arriving a split second too soon or too late (it was difficult to distinguish) and blazing over. Only time will tell whether this miss or Lössl’s save(s) will be definitive.
Lössl was called in to action one last time before the end, inelegantly spilling a relatively tame effort before quite miraculously preventing Da Cruz converting the rebound for a goal which would have been disallowed for offside.
As ever, results elsewhere shone perspective light on a hard earned point. Luton conceded an equaliser which rather neutralised disappointment at the dropping of 2 points without alleviating the tension ahead of the final, difficult looking games.
Hull’s shellacking at the hands of Wigan, who will surely and admirably accumulate the points necessary to negate their punishment, pushed their goal difference to an extent that it acts as an extra point.
With Barnsley having a tougher run in even than Town’s and requiring extraordinary performances to catch up, it feels like a Charlton defeat at Birmingham (admittedly a stretch on current form) could determine whether 48 points will be enough to survive.
The anguish will endure until the final day unless Town can somehow raise themselves and gain a result against high flying West Brom. Optimistically, and verging on Panglossian, the absence of expectation, which weighed so heavily against Luton and Wigan, may help.
Survival would not, and should not, be cause for celebration after a season which may yet turn from gravely disappointing and persistently worrying to disastrous, but it would be, at least, some sort of platform on which to build.