Owls boss Stuart Gray indicated Sheffield Wednesday would, at times, play a more direct brand of football to combat the Hillsborough pitch in an attempt to improve their results at home.
But the change in tactics failed to alter their home fortunes as they were held to a goalless draw with Birmingham City last night.
It is the eighth time the Owls have fired blanks in 14 Championship tussles at Hillsborough and there were boos at the final whistle. No team in the division has scored fewer home goals than Wednesday. They created plenty of chances against a stubborn, organised Birmingham side but were toothless in the final third.
Although Stuart Gray’s side recorded their 15th clean sheet of the campaign, the result seriously dents their hopes of gategrashing the top six.
Gray, aiming to find a cure to their home sickness, opted to pair new signing Will Keane with Atdhe Nuhiu up front. Keane, on loan from Manchester United, was preferred to Stevie May in attack, with the Scotland international dropping to the substitutes bench. It was the 22-year-old’s first start of the season.
The Wednesday chief also handed a full debut to Chelsea youngster Lewis Baker in midfield and recalled Joe Mattock at left-back, meaning Kieran Lee and Claude Dielna missed out. Back-up goalkeeper Chris Kirkland, wanted by several Football League clubs on loan, was not in the squad and his place on the bench went to youngster Joe Wildsmith.
Maguire, chasing his third goal in as many matches, whipped in a teasing cross in the third minute which Nuhiu glanced wide as Owls put the visitors on the back foot.
With Stephen Gleeson, who worked with Gray at Wolves, and David Davis stationed in front of the back four, it was pretty clear the Blues planned to stifle and frustrate Wednesday. A good piece of skill from fans favourite Jose Semedo deep inside his own half lit up a low key opening.
Then Jacques Maghoma, looking to make amends following his error against Bolton Wanderers last time out, jinked his way past a couple of markers before flashing a shot over the top. Birmingham posed little threat as an attacking force and it took a fine challenge by their skipper Paul Robinson to deny Keane a sight at goal after a clever pass by Baker.
The Thai consortium in takeover discussions with Wednesday were present again in the directors’ box and you could have forgiven them for going for an early half-time refreshment, given the lack of goal-mouth action.
On a tricky playing surface, which was bizarrely watered before kick-off, Wednesday coped better with the conditions. After good link up play involving Baker and Nuhiu, Maghoma found a gap in the centre of Birmingham’s defence and saw his low right foot shot expertly turned away by Darren Randolph.
Just before the half hour mark, Nuhiu shrugged off the attentions of Jonathan Grounds out wide and fizzed in a dangerous centre which was superbly cleared by substitute Jonathan Spector, who came on for former Owls defender Michael Morrison, who was forced off with an injury.
There has been a big upturn in Birmingham’s results since Gary Rowett replaced Lee Clark at the helm last October. He has steered them out of the relegation zone and up into the top half of the table and they grew in confidence as the half wore on.
A brilliant last ditch tackle by Mattock prevented Donaldson from tapping in from close range two minutes before the interval and David Cotterill, once of Sheffield United and Doncaster Rovers, saw his rasping drive spectacularly tipped over the bar by Keiren Westwood as Birmingham pushed hard for the opener.
Keane and Nuhiu combined effectively after the interval, leading to Spector hauling Nuhiu down just outside Birmingham’s penalty area and Maguire curled the resulting free-kick wide, with many of the home faithful thinking it had gone in.
Cotterill cleverily made himself some room and floated an inviting cross in the 57th minute and Donaldson, Birmingham’s top-scorer, rose highest to meet the delivery but failed to direct his looping header on target.
Gray threw on Jeremy Helan for the final half hour at the expense of Maguire, switching Maghoma to the right flank and the tactical change almost paid off immediately as Maghoma flashed a ball across the face of goal which just evaded Keane.
Baker’s control then let him down at the crucial stage after good build up play by Nuhiu, allowing Randolph to rush out and snuff out the danger
Moments later, Demarai Gray, Birmingham’s much vaunted forward, weaved his way past Tom Lees before shooting tamely at Westwood.
There was a controversial incident midway through the second half when Nuhiu appeared to be dragged down by Spector just outside the penalty area but referee Trevor Kettle was not interested and waved play on.
That moment seemed to fire up Nuhiu, who dragged an effort inches wide after a long punt upfield by Palmer.
Palmer was the architect of Wednesday’s final chance, sending in a great cross which Nuhiu headed over.
owls: Westwood; Palmer, Loovens, Lees, Mattock; Maguire (Helan 60), Baker, Semedo, Maghoma, Nuhiu, Keane (May 75). Substitutes: Wildsmith, Buxton, Lavery, Lee, Dielna.
Birmingham: Randolph; Caddis, Robinson, Morrison (Spector 21), Grounds; Gleeson, Davis; Cotterill, Shinnie (Dyer 71), Gray; Donaldson (Thomas 83). Substitutes: Doyle, Novak, Reilly, Zigic.
rEFEREE: Trevor Kettle (Berkshire)