Despite finishing 15 points behind Brighton & Hove Albion, Sheffield Wednesday was by far the better side in the first leg of their Championship Playoffs semifinal, winning 2-0 in front of their home crowd at Hillsborough Stadium.
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Wednesday controlled play from the opening whistle, moving the ball forward and creating multiple opportunities on goal. Wednesday’s leading scorer Fernando Forestieri latched on to a long ball over the top and looked to have put the Owls ahead after 19 minutes, but his strike was controversially called back for offside.
Video shows Forestieri was clearly offside on the play, but the linesman never put up his flag and the Wednesday players were allowed a full celebration before the referee went over to discuss the play with his assistant. In the end it was the right call, but the officials handling of it all infuriated Wednesday boss Carlos Carvalhal.
Already being outplayed, Brighton was forced to make a double substitution in the 40th minute as two players went down injured. Then, just before the break, Wednesday finally found their opening goal.
Ross Wallace cut in from the right wing onto his left foot, firing a strike from nearly 30 yards out into the bottom corner as Hillsborough erupted.
Brighton’s second half started just as poorly as the first half ended, as another injury forced manager Chris Hughton to use his third and final substitution in the 50th minute. Ten minutes later, Anthony Knockaert went down and was stretchered off the pitch, forcing Brighton to play the final half hour with just ten men.
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Wednesday took advantage of the situation, with Kieran Lee putting the Owls 2-0 ahead in the 73rd minute. A former Manchester United midfielder, Lee cut behind the Brighton defense and buried his shot into the side netting.
The second leg will be held at Brighton on Monday, May 16. The Seagulls face an uphill battle, but with one of the best home records in the Championship, this tie is far from over. The team that advances on aggregate will play a one match, winner-gets-promoted final at Wembley.