That’s how you lay down a marker!
A trip to Championship leaders Newcastle United was always going to be a big test of Wednesday’s promotion credentials. Boss Carlos Carvalhal claimed it would be their toughest assignment of the campaign.
And the pressure was on the Owls to deliver in the north east. All the other sides in the play-off positions had picked up maximum points earlier on Boxing Day.
But Wednesday rose to the challenge, winning at St James’ Park for the second year on the spin following a second half strike from an unlikely source.
Skipper Glenn Loovens claimed his first goal in Owls colours to seal their third win on the spin and spoil Newcastle’s Christmas party.
It was their best performance of the season, with Keiren Westwood, Tom Lees, Loovens and Sam Hutchinson outstanding defensively. Wednesday came under the cosh in the latter stages of an absorbing contest but stood firm.
To beat the table-toppers in their own backyard sends out a big statement to the rest of the division that the Owls mean business this year.
If you are being picky, they could have scored more but Newcastle goalkeeper Karl Darlow pulled off a string of excellent saves to keep them at bay.
But at the halfway stage in the season, Wednesday are well-placed to kick on in 2017.
Carvalhal shuffled his pack with Ross Wallace, Barry Bannan and Fernando Forestieri returning to the side.
It felt like a heavyweight encounter in the early stages as both teams cancelled each other out.
But Newcastle almost made the breakthrough in the 12th minute.
Midfield powerhouse Mo Diame, who bagged a stunning winner for Hull City in the Play-Off final against Wednesday last May, slipped in top-scorer Dwight Gayle and his fierce left shot was superbly turned on to the crossbar by Keiren Westwood. Vurnon Anita was unable to convert the follow up.
The Magpies started to pose a few more problems to Wednesday’s defence. Centre-back Ciaran Clark rose highest to meet Matt Ritchie’s corner but his thumping header sailed over.
The Owls were living dangerously from set plays, with Clark failing to hit the target again after shrugging off his marker from another dangerous Ritchie delivery.
Moments later, Carvalhal’s men forced Darlow into action. The keeper produced a fine reflex save to tip over Steven Fletcher’s rasping left foot drive after good build-up play from Forestieri and Daniel Pudil.
From the resulting corner, Fletcher’s neat knockdown found Forestieri, who turned sharply only to see his right foot effort kept out by the agility of Darlow.
Wednesday’s Achilles heel all campaign has been an inability to turn their dominance into goals and Liam Palmer fired over after an inch-perfect crossfield pass by Sam Hutchinson.
Without influential playmaker Jonjo Shelvey, suspended for five matches on a racial abuse charge, Newcastle lacked end product in the final third.
The hosts had a penalty appeal turned away in the 37th minute when Gayle went down after tangling with Hutchinson but Premier League referee Paul Tierney waved away their claim.
Jack Colback, deputising for Shelvey in the centre, tried his luck from just outside the area on the stroke of half-time but Westwood was equal to it.
The home fans were unhappy with Tierney’s decision-making and booed him and his assistants off at half-time.
Five minutes after the interval, Fletcher could, and probably, should have silenced the crowd by opening the scoring. The Scotland international, who scored twice for Sunderland in five Tyne-Wear clashes against Newcastle, was thwarted by the legs of Darlow from close range after a peach of a cross by Bannan.
Loovens then spared Fletcher’s blushes, nodding home after Darlow dived to his right to keep out Lees’ powerful header. It was no more than the visitors deserved and Loovens’ first goal since April 2012.
The defender’s opener stirred Newcastle into life and Issac Hayden blazed over before Yoan Gouffran glanced Colback’s cross inches wide. It proved to be the Frenchman’s last meaningful contribution as he was brought off in place of Christian Atsu.
It took a great save from Westwood to turn away Atsu’s venomous 25-yard effort as the Magpies pushed forward in numbers.
Newcastle threw everything at Wednesday and substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic saw his downward header well saved by Westwood.
But the Owls kept their concentration and discipline to clinch a fifth win in their last six matches.
They are on a roll and, on this evidence, are going to take some stopping.
Newcastle: Darlow; Anita, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett; Ritchie, Hayden, Colback (Mitrovic 80), Gouffran (Atsu 62), Diame (Perez 69); Gayle. Substitutes: Lazaar, Mbemba, Yedlin, Sels.
Wednesday: Westwood; Palmer, Lees, Loovens, Pudil; Wallace (Nuhiu 90), Hutchinson, Bannan (Jones 80), Reach; Fletcher, Forestieri (Joao 77). Substitutes: Wildsmith, Hunt, Sasso, Abdi.
Referee: Paul Tierney (Lancashire)
Star man: Sam Hutchinson