Lukas Jutkiewicz climbed off the bench to mark his Blues home debut with a stoppage-time winner to complete a pulsating comeback victory at St. Andrew’s.
The game was a mirror opposite of last season’s encounter on the same ground when Sheffield Wednesday came from behind to clinch a 2-1 win. This time it was Blues that battled back to claim the spoils, but it was far from a smash-and-grab raid.
Gary Rowett’s men put in a performance full of desire, and no little skill, as, after a slow start, they took the game to Wednesday. The Blues boss clearly felt the match was there to be won as he made three very attack-minded substitutions, including the introduction of Jutkiewicz and Greg Stewart, with strikers Clayton Donaldson and Che Adams already on the pitch.
Initially it looked like the visitors may have stolen victory when Blues’ nemesis Gary Hooper, who scored twice in last season’s St. Andrew’s meeting, fired the Owls in front on 76 minutes. But Donaldson levelled matters with a second penalty in the space of eight days to set up the dramatic finale, which was capped by Jutkiewicz’s looping header two minutes into added-on time.
Blues made three changes from the side that drew at Reading in midweek, Stephen Gleeson replacing the injured Robert Tesche whilst Donaldson and Jacques Maghoma were recalled as recent loan signing Jutkiewicz and David Cotterill dropped to the bench.
The game’s first opening arrived on seven minutes and it was a golden chance for the visitors to grab an early lead as Steven Fletcher slipped strike partner Fernando Forestieri through on goal. Fortunately Adam Legzdins was alert to the danger and was sharply off his line to smother the Argentinean’s 12-yard effort, a fine and crucial save from the Blues keeper on his first league outing of the season on home soil.
Blues enjoyed plenty of possession during the early exchanges but it was Wednesday who were next to threaten, Forestieri playing the ball through to Barry Bannan. As boos ran around St. Andrew’s for the former Aston Villa man, the Scot tried an audacious lob from 25 yards that floated a yard over Legzdins’ crossbar.
The Owls were looking a particular danger down Blues’ left-hand side and from that flank Liam Palmer fizzed a dangerous ball across the centre of the hosts’ penalty area, but fortunately it travelled past a forest of legs and away from danger. The visitors threatened again, this time down the left as record signing Adam Reach who chipped an excellent cross into the box but Almen Abdi’s header flew just over.
Abdi turned provided moments later as he laid the ball through to Forestieri but the striker’s shot took a heavy deflection off Ryan Shotton and travelled harmlessly into the arms of Legzdins.
But Blues weathered the early Wednesday storm well and the second half of the opening period saw Rowett’s side take the attacking initiative. On 26 minutes, Donaldson turned well and ran at the Owls defence before playing a delightful reverse pass to Maghoma just inside the box. It looked a good shooting opportunity for the former Owls winger, but instead he tried to lay the ball square to David Davis and the visitors intercepted to clear. Glenn Loovens’ trailing leg actually caught Maghoma’s leg as the Wednesday captain slid in to make the attempted block, but the misdemeanour was overlooked by the official, much to the annoyance of Rowett on the touchline.
Blues were on the attack again soon afterwards as Maghoma chipped the ball to the far post but Adams’ volley was always rising and flew into the banks of home fans behind the Tilton Road goal.
The Owls were struggling to deal with the strength of Donaldson and the big man won his side a free-kick in a dangerous area, central and only a couple of yards outside the area, after a trip by Keiran Lee. Maghoma got the resultant set-piece past the Wednesday wall but it carried safely into the grateful arms of Keiren Westwood in the visitors’ goal.
The final first-half chance fell to Donaldson as he was terrifically picked out by a lovely ball over the top from Shotton. Blues’ top scorer tried a difficult volley as the ball dropped over his head and he didn’t make the right connection, his shot ballooning up into the air and well over Westwood’s woodwork.
Blues resumed the action after the break in the same manner as they had finished the first-half, straight on the attack. Maikel Kieftenbeld tried his luck from distance but it was deflected by a Wednesday player which took the sting out of it and Westwood saved comfortably down to his left, although Donaldson was flagged offside anyway.
Kieftenbeld was in the thick of the action again as he latched onto a wonderful chip from Gleeson over the Wednesday backline. Unfortunately the Dutchman failed to get it under control with his first touch but still managed to get a shot in from almost on the goal line, the ball striking the outside the post.
Maghoma was next to test Westwood’s reflexes with a shot from fully 30 yards that flew straight down the throat of the Wednesday keeper who grasped it well. On a rare attacking foray from the visitors, Fletcher teed up Forestieri, but the Owls’ top marksman never looked like adding to his two-goal tally for the season as his wayward shot drifted well off target.
Blues were back on the front foot again as Adams produced a fantastic cross-field pass to Maghoma, who chested it down well on the left side of the penalty area, but he didn’t catch his half-volley as he would have wished, the shot looping up and over the bar.
Loovens joined Stephen Gleeson – who was booked for a late tackle on Abdi – in the referee’s notebook for a clumsy foul on Donaldson. There was an argument that the Owls skipper should have been booked in the first-half for the trip on Maghoma when Blues were denied a penalty, so that second infringement of the rules perhaps should have ended his evening prematurely.
Rowett made a double substitution just after the hour mark and it was an attacking change as Stewart and Reece Brown replaced Kieftenbeld and Davis. And both subs had early chances to make an impact.
Stewart was straight into the action with a lively run down the right flank but he wasn’t able to produce the killer pass. The Scot did have a shooting chance when the ball came to him quickly just inside the area but sadly he miscued his drive which veered well wide of Westwood’s goal. Moments earlier Brown had brought a save from the Owls keeper as he crashed in a shot from wide on the left that was collected easily by Westwood.Donaldson was troubling the visitors defence again as he looked to latch on to a ball over the top. The Blues number nine got away with a little nudge on Loovens that put him clear on goal, but from a narrow angle wide on the right of the box, he attempted to lift the ball over Westwood but got too much purchase on his shot.
After all their attacking intent, Blues harshly found themselves a goal behind with 14 minutes left on the clock. Fletcher slipped but as he was dragging himself to his feet he was able to play a clever back-heel through to Hooper, who’d only been on the pitch 11 minutes. The sub ran clear on goal and although Legzdins got a hand to his shot, he wasn’t able to keep it out.
But Blues were back on level terms just five minutes later. Donaldson showed a good turn of speed as he raced across the penalty area, only to be sent tumbling to the ground after clashing with the onrushing Westwood. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Donaldson, who had scored two and missed two penalties already this season, confidently grabbed the ball and coolly converted from 12 yards with a shot low to the keeper’s left.
Blues had a lucky escape just into stoppage-time as Wednesday sub Atdhe Nuhiu saw his header from six yards crash back off the crossbar. And the home side took full advantage of that stroke of good fortunate as they raced to the other end and grabbed a dramatic late winner.
Stewart played his part in the build-up as he did well to keep hold of the ball on the left side of the Wednesday penalty area. He played the ball back to Maghoma who showed great vision and technique to the chip the ball in the direction of Jutkiewicz. The unmarked loanee rose and hung delightfully in the air before dispatching a perfectly placed looping header over Westwood and into the far corner. All eyes turned to the referee’s assistant who kept his flag down to confirm that Blues had stolen the points.
No one could say that Blues didn’t warrant this result after a very positive performance and the three points moves Rowett’s side up back up into the play-off places in fifth spot.