Did Sheffield Wednesday make life difficult for the Cherries, or was it a case that the Cherries just made life difficult for themselves in this midweek encounter at Dean Court?
From the off Sheffield Wednesday really got at the Cherries not allowing the home side to settle at all on the ball, let alone get in to the normal passing game we're familiar with.
Sheffield Wednesday had by far the better chances in the opening minutes as they missed a couple of guilt edged chances. Guilty was Isaiah Osbourne, in the 5th minute, whose goal bound header was smartly saved by Jalal guarding the goal in front of the North Stand.
For all of their jostling, Wednesday didn't let the Cherries settle for a single moment. In truth also, the Cherries midfield did seem absent at times, were not tight enough on their opponents and certainly not getting hold of the ball in the usual assured manner. Slack passing didn't help the cause either.
Thankfully Wednesday possession wasn't used to great effect as they didn't threaten the Cherries goal too often, even with their superior possession during long spells in the opening 45 minutes. Thankfully, from a Cherries perspective, the defense held firm as the Cherries were pegged back deep in their own territory. Notable were blocks from Liam Feeney whose defensive work rate was superb down the left hand side.
Wednesday, whose shirt numbers were practically impossible to read on their stripped shirts, had another excellent chance to open their account for the evening. Thankfully the guilty party failed to connect properly, seeling the ball go wide of the target off a Cherries boot.
Just to demonstrate how Wednesday were dominating, our visitors won 4 corners in the opening 20 minutes or so, while the Cherries were restricted to defensive duties and long attempted hoofs forward. Needless to say, the ball was returned to the Cherries half of the pitch shortly afterwards.
On a rare surge forward in to the opposing half of the pitch, Feeney was instrumental in the move forward. Sadly his pass forward was greeted with an offside flag as either Ings, or Symes (or both) were caught out. Try as they might, Symes and Ings didn't see too much of the ball as the service to the front line was distinctly absent for long spells of the game, meaning that both were coming deeper and deeper to look for the ball.
The first shot on target for the Cherries came in the 24th minute, which came from a tame effort from Symes - easy for the Wednesday keeper to deal with. Pearce produced a fierce shot in the 30th minute, but the effort wasn't close enough to troubling the Wednesday goal.
When they did get hold of the ball, the Cherries were closed down quickly and effectively by the Owls, and were forced to try and play the long ball forward. Sadly this tactic made life comfortable for the very tall Wednesday back line.
An Ings run forward saw him with what looked like his shirt being pulled all over the place and the young forward ending up on the floor. Half hearted shouts for a penalty didn't interest the match officials. I think in their boredom a free kick to our visitors was awarded.
The second half started in the same vein as the first, with the Cherries on the back foot. Jalal had to be alert from the off as he was forced in to tipping the ball over the cross bar from a Wednesday shot in the opening few seconds of the second period.
As the half progressed, the Cherries drag themselves in to the game a bit more and did create some pressure for Wednesday to think about. Reward for the Cherries came when Symes was flattened for a penalty to be awarded in the 53rd minute. Somehow Symes managed to miss the right hand upright, much to the delight of the travelling support.
Glimours of hope were there, but were wasted with longer range efforts as Wednesday restricted the Cherries ability to truely threaten the visitors goal.
The 61st minute saw the Cherries undone at the back. The ball was crossed by Spurr to find Miller, whose shot was excellently saved by Jalal.
The 65th minute saw a rare moment of excitement to get the home fans off their seats. A training ground corner from Pugh was greeted from a long run from Cooper, whose curling shot came agonisingly off the left hand upright. An inch to the right and the ball would have surely ended up in the back of the net for an undeserved lead.
So was it a case of Wednesday closing down quickly and decisively, or the Cherries failing to get in to their stride. Which ever way the cake is cut, this was far from the usual flowing football we've become used to in recent times.
My man of the match ....... few covered themselves in glory this evening, but will give my award to Shwan Jalal for making some crucial saves throughout the match.
AFCB: Jalal, Smith, Cooper, Pearce, Wiggins, Feeney, Robinson, Hollands, Pugh, Symes, Ings
Subs: Stewart, Purches, Baudry, Partington, Fletcher (for Symes, 79 mins), Stockley (for Ings, 79 mins), Arter (for Pugh, 91 mins)
Andy Burton, Portsmouth