Valentine’s Day is widely regarded as the most romantic 24 hours in the calendar.
And Sheffield Wednesday celebrated the day of love by recording a third Championship win on the trot.
Their goals came from an unlikely source.
Defender Vincent Sasso broke Blackburn Rovers’ hearts, scoring a superb first half double either side of an own goal by Sam Hutchinson.
It was anything but a routine victory for Carlos Carvalhal’s charges. Blackburn belied their lowly league position and made them work hard for it.
Substitute Marvin Emnes rattled the crossbar late on as Rovers poured forward in numbers.
To compound the visitors’ frustration, Hope Akpan saw red after appearing to push referee Scott Duncan for disallowing his late goal.
The stakes were high for both clubs. While Wednesday are battling to secure a top-six finish, Rovers are fighting to retain their Championship status. Owen Coyle’s side entered the contest knowing three points would move them out of the relegation zone for the first time in two months.
Eyebrows were raised over Carvalhal’s team selection. He left out top-scorer Fernando Forestieri following his mixed display against Birmingham City and handed a first-team recall to Adam Reach, who netted Wednesday’s third goal.
Scotland international Steven Fletcher was included in the matchday squad, having served a three-match suspension, but Tom Lees and Gary Hooper failed to shake off their knee and quad injuries respectively.
Blackburn, lining up in a 4-3-3 formation, made a positive start and Connor Mahoney had two sights in the opening eight minutes. The winger, one of three changes, fired tamely at Keiren Westwood before drilling a low shot into the side-netting after Elliott Bennett slipped him in.
But Wednesday gradually settled down and Sam Winnall saw his shot well charged down before Ross Wallace’s glorious 25 yard free kick was superbly tipped on to the crossbar by Jason Steele. It was the faintest of touches by Steele but an important one.
And the breakthrough duly came in the 18th minute and it was a classy strike by Sasso. The Frenchman peeled away to the back post and showed great technique to volley in Barry Bannan’s fine free kick home from an acute angle. It was Sasso’s first goal in English football.
However, Blackburn looked anything but relegation fodder and instantly responded, with Danny Graham’s flicked header from a corner going in off Hutchinson.
It was the first goal the Owls had conceded in their own backyard in almost eight hours of football, dating back to December 3.
Mahoney was proving a real handful for Rovers on the right flank. His trickery was causing Wednesday problems and he cut inside on to his left foot only to see his drive from long range well held by Westwood.
Hutchinson collected his eighth booking of the season after a late tackle on Sam Gallagher just after the half hour mark. The paramedics were called on and Gallagher was stretchered off and replaced by Craig Conway. There was warm applause from all four sides of the ground.
Wednesday looked disjointed and lacked fluidity for long periods of the first half and the visitors bossed possession, with Hope Akpan’s attempt deflected behind after a neat header by Graham.
Sasso continued to enjoy his date night and grabbed his and the Owls’ second against the run of play on the stroke of half-time. His bullet header from Wallace’s pinpoint corner gave Steele no chance.
The scoreline was harsh on Blackburn and it was no surprise Carvalhal turned to Forestieri at the interval as he looked to spark his team into life. To accommodate Forestieri on the left, Morgan Fox was sacrificed and Reach moved to left-back.
The ball was just not sticking up front for Wednesday and Carvalhal threw on Fletcher for the ineffectual Winnall.
There were a few groans from the home fans before the hour mark and Bannan fizzed a shot off target when well-placed which didn’t improve their mood.
Some of the Owls’ passing was sloppy and careless and the lively Craig Conway seized on an error by Hutchinson but dragged wide.
Things opened up in the closing stages and Forestieri had a goal ruled out for off-side after being fed by the energetic Bannan. Moments later, the talented forward tried his luck from distance but Steele turned his rasping effort away.
Westwood produced two vital saves in the space of 30 seconds to frustrate Rovers, foiling substitutes Marvin Emnes and substitute Liam Feeney.
Wednesday then survived a big scare when Emnes’s 25-yard piledriver struck the underside of the crossbar and bounced to safety. Blackburn claimed it went over the line but referee Scott Duncan was not interested.
Akpan was left fuming when his goal was disallowed for handball and the midfielder was was given his marching orders after confronting Duncan.
It was a pulsating finish and Darragh Lenihan’s speculative low drive whistled past the post while Forestieri’s dipping volley was kept out by Steele.
With Norwich City being held to a 2-2 home draw with Newcastle United, Wednesday tightened their grip on the final play-off position. The Owls are now four points clear with a game in hand on the Canaries.
Wednesday: Westwood; Hunt, Sasso, Loovens, Fox (Forestieri HT); Wallace, Hutchinson (Jones 72), Bannan, Reach; Winnall (Fletcher 56), Rhodes. Substitutes: Wildsmith, Palmer, Abdi, McManaman.
Blackburn: Steele; Lowe, Lenihan, Mulgrew, Williams; Guthrie (Emnes 65), Akpan, Bennett; Mahoney (Feeney 72), Graham, Gallagher (Conway 37). Substitutes: Raya, Nyambe, Tomlinson, Brown.
Referee: Scott Duncan