Plymouth Argyle were deposed as League One leaders by Sheffield Wednesday after losing 1-0 to their closest promotion rivals in front of 33,000 fans at Hillsborough.
It was the first time the Pilgrims had relinquished top spot since mid-December and came after they conceded a seventh minute goal scored by Callum Paterson in a full-blooded encounter in South Yorkshire.
Wednesday made it six successive league wins as they moved level on points with the Pilgrims, but with a better goal difference and also a game in hand.
Read More: Sheffield Wednesday vs Argyle RECAP
For Argyle, the result ended their 12-match unbeaten away league run since their 5-1 drubbing away to Charlton Athletic on August 16 and was only their fourth defeat of the campaign.
The Pilgrims’ disappointment was compounded by the loss of defender Dan Scarr and goalkeeper Mike Cooper to first half injuries.
They will be desperately hoping those are not serious issues because Scarr and Cooper are key players for them and will be needed over the final third of the league campaign.
New Zealand international Ben Waine made his first league start for Argyle after three previous substitute appearances as one of two changes to the team from the 4-2 home win against Cheltenham Town last time out, a fortnight earlier.
Manager Steven Schumacher went with Waine to lead the attack while 12-goal top scorer Ryan Hardie and Sam Cosgrove were named among the substitutes, and there was no place in the squad for Niall Enmnis.
The other change to the starting line-up saw the return of captain Joe Edwards from a one-match suspension, with Callum Wright making way for him and being on the bench instead.
There was a 33,000 sell-out crowd at Hillsborough, including a 3,700-strong contingent of the Green Army in both tiers of the West Stand, for League One’s game of the season so far.
Edwards played at right wing-back in a 3-4-2-1 formation for the visitors with Mumba on the left, while Jordan Houghton and Jay Matete were in central midfield.
Finn Azaz and Tyreik Wright occupied the ‘number 10’ roles behind Waine, who was up against a three-man Wednesday defence of Dominic Iorfa, Aden Flint and Liam Palmer.
Argyle played towards the packed Kop end of home supporters in the first half and those fans were soon celebrating an early goal for their side.
It came in the seventh minute when Wednesday worked a two-on-one opportunity on their right after a short throw-in and when Will Vaulks crossed the ball into the penalty area it was met by Will Paterson who fired a fierce shot into the net.
Cooper had no chance of saving it and the chant of ‘We are top of the league’ rang around a raucous Hillsborough.
Scarr had to be substituted due to an early injury and Nigel Lonwijk was his 14th minute replacement before Wednesday took a corner which almost led to a second goal for them.
A deep cross was played back inside by Vaulks and the ball dropped inside the box to Flint, whose attempt was pushed onto the left post by Cooper and then George Byers fired wide.
It was a brilliant reaction save from Cooper and came at a time when the Pilgrims were reeling after conceding the early goal and losing Scarr.
Argyle had their first attempt on goal in the 21st minute after they awarded a free-kick on the edge of the Wednesday penalty area for a foul on Matete.
It was Wright who stepped up to take the set piece and his curling shot beat the defensive wall but was parried away by Cameron Dawson, with the Owls eventually conceding a corner.
After already seeing Scarr depart the action early on there was an even bigger blow for Argyle shortly after the half hour mark as Cooper had to be substituted due to injury.
Cooper was hurt when he punched the ball clear under a challenge from Josh Windass and landed awkwardly.
The 23-year-old received lengthy treatment from physio Gareth Law but although he got to his feet he was unable to continue playing and walked slowly off the pitch.
He was replaced by Callum Burton, with the 26-year-old making his league debut for Argyle after joining them in the summer of 2022.
Burton was called into almost immediate action, racing out to the edge of his box to get to the ball before Windass.
Lonwijk did well to put a driven low cross from the busy Windass behind for a corner as Wednesday kept up their pressure on Argyle, with Waine completely isolated up front.
After the lengthy delays caused by the injuries to Scarr and Cooper, there was eight minutes of added time but neither side had a scoring opportunity before the interval.
It was a chance for Argyle to regroup after a hugely disappointing first half, not only because they conceded an early goal but also because they had lost two key players.
Schumacher responded by making two substitutions for the start of the second half, with strikers Cosgrove and Hardie sent on for Waine and Edwards
Azaz was the link between the midfield and the twin attack of Cosgrove and Hardie, while Wright went to left wing-back and Mumba continued on the right as he had ended the first period.
There was a scare for Argyle when Wednesday defender Liam Palmer got to the by-line and put in a cross which seemed to deceive Burton and the ball flashed across the face of goal, but no-one could get on the end of it.
Wednesday goalscorer Paterson was also an injury victim and hobbled off shortly before the hour mark, with Jack Hunt taking him over from him at right wing-back.
The play became stop-start as tackles flew in from both sides and Busby awarded a series of free-kicks, while Argyle defender James Wilson sent a glancing header well wide after a free-kick taken by Houghton.
At least the Pilgrims were able to take the game to Wednesday more than they had done in the first half as the hosts only attacked sporadically.
Hardie then sent a fierce left-foot shot narrowly over the crossbar as Argyle sensed there was a way back into the contest for them, with the switch to two strikers definitely helping them.
However, there was a big let off for the Pilgrims in the 67th minute when Wednesday’s Johnson blasted the ball high and wide into the Kop from a terrific scoring position inside the box.
Argyle kept up their pursuit of an equaliser as Mumba cut in from the right and let fly with a left-foot strike which was not far wide of Dawson’s near post.
Callum Wright was the visitors’ fifth and final substitute in the 74th minute, with his namesake Tyreik the player coming off.
Wednesday thought they had scored a second goal soon afterwards when a cut back from the left found Byers and he slotted low into the corner of the net.
However, as Hillsborough exploded into noise a very late offside flag cut short their celebrations and it remained 1-0 and with the outcome of the match still in the balance.
Cosgrove got on the end of a Houghton free-kick but could not direct the ball close to the goal before Owls’ playmaker Barry Bannan was taken off in the 87th minute and replaced by the more defensive-minded Dennis Adeniran.
There was another half chance for Argyle when Cosgrove put the ball wide of Wednesday’s left post after a cut back from Hardie before Burton made a comfortable save from a low shot by Owls’ substitute Mallik Wilks.
To howls of dismay from around the home stands, it was confirmed that 10 minutes of added time would be played at the end of the second half and there was still hope for Argyle.
But they could not come up with the goal that they craved and a packed Hillsborough could celebrate their side going top of the table at the sound of the final whistle.
ARGYLE: Mike Cooper (Callum Burton 35 mins); James Wilson, Dan Scarr (Nigel Lonwijk 14 mins), Macaulay Gillesphey; Joe Edwards (Ryan Hardie h/t), Jordan Houghton, Jay Matete, Bali Mumba; Tyreik Wright (Callum Wright 74 mins), Finn Azaz; Ben Waine (Sam Cosgrove h/t).
Substitutes: Adam Randell, Saxon Earley.
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY: Cameron Dawson; Dominic Iorfa, Aden Flint, Liam Palmer; Callum Paterson (Jack Hunt 57 mins), George Byers, Will Vaulks, Barry Bannan (Dennis Adeniran 86 mins), Marvin Johnson; Josh Windass (Mallik Wilks 74 mins, Michael Smith (Lee Gregory 74 mins).
Substitutes: David Stockdale, Jaden Brown, Fisayo Dele-Bashiru.
REFEREE: John Busby
ATTENDANCE: 33,442 (3,700)
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