OWLS GO NAP AS TOWN AND LEEDS ARE CAUGHT NAP­PING

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - FRONT PAGE - Richard Sut­cliffe CHIEF FOOT­BALL WRITER Email: richard.sut­cliffe@ypn.co.uk Twit­ter: @RSootyYPS­port

AF­TER a po­ten­tially piv­otal week­end for York­shire’s three pro­mo­tion chal­lengers in the Cham­pi­onship, David Wag­ner in­sists Hud­der­s­field Town’s top-flight as­pi­ra­tions will not suf­fer any last­ing dam­age de­spite a sec­ond heavy de­feat of the sea­son to Ful­ham.

The Ter­ri­ers slumped to a 4-1 loss against the in-form Lon­don­ers, a re­sult that nudged Wag­ner’s men down to fifth in the ta­ble thanks to Sh­effield Wed­nes­day’s vic­tory over Derby County.

Hud­der­s­field, how­ever, re­main odds-on to ex­tend their sea­son be­yond May 7 due to hav­ing to­mor­row night’s game in hand on all their ri­vals at Wolver­hamp­ton Wanderers.

Vic­tory at Mo­lineux will guar­an­tee a top-six fin­ish, while a draw would leave the Ter­ri­ers sit­ting pretty in third place with just two games re­main­ing.

“We lost the game but now we leave it be­hind us,” said Wag­ner, whose side’s hopes of qual­i­fy­ing were boosted by sev­enth-placed Leeds United’s 2-1 de­feat at Bur­ton Al­bion and a 3-2 loss for Read­ing at Not­ting­ham For­est.

“It will be very easy to do that be­cause our next game is just around the cor­ner. An op­por­tu­nity has been missed (in terms of the play-offs) but we have an­other now. This is in our hands.

“We have shown un­be­liev­able con­sis­tency over the sea­son, I think we have been out­side the top six for just a few days.”

Asked about Town’s five-point lead over neigh­bours Leeds, Wag­ner added: “To be fair, we no­tice the other re­sults but I al­ways like to con­cen­trate only on what we do.

Wag­ner’s dis­ap­point­ment at his side not tak­ing their first op­por­tu­nity to guar­an­tee a play-off place by beat­ing Ful­ham at the John smith’s Sta­dium was in con­trast to the sense of sat­is­fac­tion felt at Hills­bor­ough.

Goals from ex­pe­ri­enced strik­ers Steven Fletcher and Gary Hooper in a 2-1 win over the Rams nudged the Owls up to a sea­son’s high fourth place.

Like Hud­der­s­field, Car­los Car­val­hal’s men are within touch­ing dis­tance of the play-offs thanks to that five-point ad­van­tage over Leeds.

De­spite that, as­sis­tant man­ager Lee Bullen in­sists there will be no com­pla­cency go­ing into the club’s fi­nal two fix­tures.

“This league has a way of go­ing back to bite you,” he said af- ter Wed­nes­day claimed a fifth straight win for the first time in a decade.

“Every­one will say that is us home and hosed. But Leeds United have still got two games to play and six points to play for.

“Garry Monk will still be say­ing that to his play­ers. Our fo­cus is on our­selves, not any­one else. We know what we have got to do.”

Leeds, mean­while, have stum­bled at just the wrong mo­ment. The de­feat at Bur­ton was the club’s fourth in six games and means United are now re­liant on oth­ers do­ing them favours.

Even then, the El­land Road club are likely to need a max­i­mum six points from their fi­nal two games to have any hopes of claim­ing a place in the top six.

A frus­trated Monk ad­mit­ted: “We are dis­ap­pointed and now the sit­u­a­tion is out of our hands.

“But we have a duty to each other and to our fans and to every­one af­ter how hard this group has been work­ing all sea­son to fight to the very end.

“We have to give our max­i­mum in these two games and try and win them or at least win the next game which is at El­land Road.

“Then who knows if we can go into the last game with half a chance? Hope­fully, we can get to that point.

“We have been fight­ing all sea­son and we still have a small op­por­tu­nity and foot­ball works in mys­te­ri­ous ways.

“We will be ready in these next two games. We owe that to each other and to our fans. It’s a small chance but we are go­ing to have to try and take it.”

Hud­der­s­field, like Leeds, may have suf­fered a chas­ten­ing de­feat over the week­end but Wag­ner is adamant his play­ers will bounce back to­mor­row at Wolves.

“The de­feat hurts but I know where we were at fault,” said the Ger­man, whose side crashed 5-0 to Ful­ham at Craven Cot­tage in Oc­to­ber.

“It is dif­fi­cult to win a game against a team like Ful­ham if you score three half own goals. We gave those goals away.

“We have to be bet­ter in terms of con­cen­tra­tion and fo­cus. If we do that, we have a good chance.”

We are dis­ap­pointed and now the sit­u­a­tion is out of our hands. Leeds United head coach Garry Monk af­ter a dev­as­tat­ing de­feat at Bur­ton.

MANY moons ago, not too far away from Hills­bor­ough, the sight of one of the most fa­mous run­ners of his gen­er­a­tion in Seb Coe pound­ing the Rivelin Val­ley Road in his pur­suit of sport­ing ex­cel­lence, was a com­mon one.

Pushed to the limit by his late fa­ther Peter, Coe built reser­voirs of stamina and re­solve on those tough gra­di­ents and cru­cially knew when to kick for home.

Sim­i­lar qual­i­ties are cur­rently serv­ing Sh­effield Wed­nes­day well in their own Cham­pi­onship race.

The climbs have been steep and ar­du­ous at times and there are sev­eral serious hills to ne­go­ti­ate yet. But en­durance lev­els are strong and there is still gas in the tank.

The sea­son is a marathon as head coach Car­los Car­val­hal has been quick to point out on more than one oc­ca­sion this term and Wed­nes­day are clearly in­tent on con­serv­ing their best un­til last.

While bou­quets may have been af­forded York­shire ri­vals Hud­der­s­field Town and Leeds United on a more reg­u­lar ba­sis so far in 2016-17, Car­val­hal’s side have the look of stay­ers.

On Satur­day, they moved above Town and Leeds in the ta­ble for the first time this sea­son.

As has been their wont in 201617, Wed­nes­day were not mag­nif­i­cent or free-flow­ing for the du­ra­tion, but they were un­re­lent­ing and per­sis­tent and held their nerve and shared the load.

Those with long enough mem­o­ries will be re­minded of Howard Wilkin­son’s pro­mo­tion class of 1983-84.

Wed­nes­day’s lat­est vic­tory was no­table in sev­eral re­spects. It se­cured the Owls a fifth suc­ces­sive league win, a first for Car­val­hal in his ten­ure, and you have to go to back to April, 2007 for the last oc­ca­sion that hap­pened.

You have also to go back a year ear­lier for the pre­vi­ous time that the Owls had beaten Derby, all of 17 meet­ings ago. It is an ex­quis­ite time of year to break un­wanted records.

In a squad that ap­pears brim­ful of savvy, the Owls were in­debted to some old heads. Not just goalscor­ers Steven Fletcher and Gary Hooper, who dis­played their nous and preda­tory qual­i­ties in tan­dem once again to res­cue the hosts af­ter Derby went in front, but also the likes of Kieren West­wood and Glenn Loovens.

It was West­wood who stayed strong to make a key late save to pre­vent Chris Baird from fir­ing an equaliser, and it had been Loovens who was well sta­tioned to clear off the line ear­lier and pre­vent Will Hughes from dou­bling the Rams’ lead at a crit­i­cal junc­ture.

They are the sort of con­tri­bu­tions that you need to get over the line at the busi­ness end.

On an­other key win and af­ter­noon, Fletcher, who moved into dou­ble fig­ures for the sea­son af­ter his 54th-minute lev­eller – his fourth goal in four games – said: “It was a great win. It was ob­vi­ously a bit ner­vous at the start and they went 1-0 up. But we knew if we kept do­ing what we were do­ing, we would get the goals.

“We have got some mo­men­tum just now and are play­ing good foot­ball and scor­ing goals.

“We do know that we can al­ways get a goal. We also have quite a lot of peo­ple back fit now af­ter hav­ing had a lot of in­juries mid­way through the sea­son.

“When you see the play­ers who have not even made the bench, they are still work­ing hard in train­ing and they are all up­beat, which is a good thing. The gaffer can ob­vi­ously pick and choose who he wants to put in the squad and it is a mas­sive thing in not hav­ing a lim­ited squad.

“We also have a lot of ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers in the team. When the young lads see it is tense, they can see the ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers telling them to calm them­selves down and get on with the game.”

The Owls had the bet­ter of a low-key first half, with the sight of Kieran Lee back in har­ness be­ing the most pleas­ing as­pect.

The ap­pear­ance of Dar­ren Bent nod­ding the Rams ahead early in the sec­ond half, mo­ments af­ter West­wood had de­nied the veteran, was rather less ed­i­fy­ing.

It had the po­ten­tial for one of those long, angst-rid­den late-sea- son days that can be painful, but Wed­nes­day found a way back.

Fletcher went close to an equaliser when his fine header clipped the bar from Daniel Pudil’s cross be­fore a big mo­ment saw Loovens save the day af­ter Hughes waltzed clear.

It proved fate­ful with Fletcher restor­ing par­ity by head­ing home af­ter Hooper did well to nod Ross Wal­lace’s cen­tre across goal.

Hooper soon turned scorer, coolly steer­ing the loose ball home af­ter Scott Car­son dealt un­con­vinc­ingly with Adam Reach’s cross.

West­wood stayed strong at the cli­max and the Owls were not to be moved.

PIC­TURES: STEVE EL­LIS

GOALSCOR­ING HEROES: Gary Hooper, above, cel­e­brates his match­win­ning goal af­ter Steven Fletcher had headed home Sh­effield Wed­nes­day’s equaliser against Derby County at Hills­bor­ough, in­set.

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