Atdhe Nuhiu bagged his sixth goal of the campaign as Sheffield Wednesday claimed their first ever win at Wigan Athletic to end 2014 on a high note.
The big striker powered in a header from close range in the 77th minute to help the Owls clinch back-to-back Championship wins. It was Nuhiu’s first goal since September 30.
Victory moves the Owls back into the top ten and leaves them just six points adrift of the play-off positions.
It was a thoroughly disciplined, professional away performance by Stuart Gray’s side.
Their cause was significantly helped when Wigan substitute Callum McManaman was given his marching orders for a late sliding challenge on Claude Dielna in the 68th minute.
They certainly made the most of it.
READ MORE: Stuart Gray praises Owls goal hero Nuhiu
Gray decided to shuffle his pack, making three changes to his starting line-up.
Skipper Glenn Loovens, who missed the Owls’ 1-0 Boxing Day win over Blackpool, passed a late fitness test on his hamstring injury, replacing Claude Dielna at the heart of their rearguard.
Gray also freshened up their attacking options, bringing in Jacques Maghoma for hor his start since November 22, and Atdhe Nuhiu at the expense of Royston Drenthe and Stevie May.
Drenthe’s absence from the match-day squad was a major talking point on social media before kick-off.
The Dutch forward has featured prominently since arriving on loan from Reading at the start of September, making 15 appearances, hitting one goal.
Gray has spoken of his desire to retain Drenthe’s services but the former Real Madrid player is reportedly on the brink of moving to China.
There was a worrying moment in the early stages when Keiren Westwood went down in a heap on the floor after a collision with James McClean.
But the goalkeeper, who has been Wednesday’s top performer this season, shrugged off the knock after receiving treatment from Owls’ medical staff.
Wigan, deploying a 3-5-2 formation which served them well at Leeds last Friday, came close to penetrating Wednesday’s back four on the quarter hour mark after a surging run by Chris McCann, who’s venemous strike was brilliantly blocked by Loovens, with Lewis McGugan hacking away the loose ball.
Adam Forshaw, Wigan’s only alteration, tried his luck from just outside the penalty area but his deflected attempt was comfortably gathered by Westwood.
Having soaked up and withstood the Latics’ early pressure, the Owls almost caught them napping on the counter attack as Nuhiu nearly slid in Maghoma’s low centre but the ball was cleared off the line by Ivan Ramis.
Rob Kiernan was yellow carded following a late tackle on Maghoma as the visitors continued to press for the opener.
The visitors carried the greater threat in the final third and Tom Lees could count himself unlucky not to open his Owls account in the 27th minute, firing over from an acute angle after Chris Maguire’s well directed corner.
McGugan, pulling the strings in midfield, saw his long range drive take a deflection and go agonisingly wide.
For all their possession and patient build up play, Wigan created few opportunities in front of goal.
McClean’s shot on the stroke of half-time sailed into the crowd to sum up their frustration.
McGugan nearly caught out Scott Carson just before the interval but the former England international goalkeeper gathered the midfielder’s effort at the second time of asking.
Wigan stepped things up after the re-start and McClean skipped around Maghoma out wide before darting towards the byline and seeing his cross expertly pushed to safety by Westwood.
Ben Watson wasted a glorious chance to put Wigan ahead in the 59th minute when he headed over McClean’s corner when he should have at least tested Westwood.
Wednesday could not get a foothold in the second period and Wigan thought they had broken the deadlock in the 65th minute after McClean turned in Watson’s inviting free kick but the strike was disallowed for off-side.
Gray’s men looked to make the most of their numerical advantage in the final quarter of the contest and Carson produced a stunning reflex save to keep out Nuhiu’s header.
But Carson was powerless to prevent Nuhiu from grabbing the decisive goal with 13 minutes remaining as Wednesday sealed their fifth away win of the season.
Maguire could have doubled their lead in the closing stages but he blazed over after slack defending by Wigan.
They survived a big scare in the 85th minute as Ramis hit the post with a header and McClean fired over the follow up as Wigan piled on the pressure.
But the Owls held their nerve to record a 13th clean sheet and send the 2,778 Wednesdayites who made the trip home happy.
In the space of 12 months, Gray has transformed them from a team fighting for survival into a side capable of challenging for promotion.
Roll on 2015.