WEDNESDAY bounced back from anti-climax against Walsall and Huddersfield to produce one of their best away performances of the season at Preston on Saturday.
After the jolts of losing five points to stoppage-time goals in their previous two games, the Owls got it right from start to finish.
They bossed the game and created enough chances to have made their first league victory at Deepdale in almost 52 years even more emphatic.
If anyone had any fears that late slip-ups might have un-nerved them and may provoke a slide in form, well those concerns were wiped away.
It was impressive stuff as Wednesday kept up the pressure on the top two and gave Gary Megson what he had wanted: the “massive plus” of a win that meant the club have an average of two points per game from the first half of the campaign, and have home games outnumbering away ones in the remainder as they attempt to maintain promotion form.
Megson was so determined that the team should not disappoint another tumultuous following, of 4,000, that stern words from him to the players came not at half-time - nor were they needed at that point - but before the game began.
He explained: “I asked the two lads who take the warm-up what it was like and they felt it was a little bit below par, with a little bit of lethargy in it.”
Hence his reaction: “It was probably the first rollicking the players have had before a game has started.”
But he felt it was “absolutely vital” that they were fully alert and on their toes.
He said: “We’re away, we have a great big following. We have a tendency to disappoint; we have to make sure that if we are beaten it’s because of quality or bad luck and not because we’re not quite at it.”
It was plaudits all round afterwards, however.
Changes worked seamlessly and there were some noteable displays.
Batth bagged his first goal for the club, having gone into the box for a corner and remained there to meet Chris Lines’ excellent cross.
Miguel Llera was a commanding replacement for the unfit Rob Jones; Jose Semedo was typically powerful and industrious; Chris O’Grady was back on form after a blip at Walsall; Jon Otsemobor was excellent considering this was his first game in four months; and Jame Tavernier was arguably a bigger hit as a right-winger than he had been at full-back.
Nicky Weaver, in his first full game since the end of August, had little to do but will be buoyed by a clean sheet. There was just one moment of concern for the keeper, when he could not hold a difficult, dropping high ball under pressure. Llera came to the rescue with a clearance off the line from a resulting shot by Paul Parry.
A goal then, in the 79th minute, might have led to a stiffer test of nerve for Wednesday in the closing stages, bearing in mind what happened in the Huddersfield and Walsall games; ditto when Parry glanced a header wide in the 84th minute.
But mostly Wednesday made a sound job of making certain of victory, switching to 4-5-1 after Liam Palmer was sent on for Tavernier in the 82nd minute, and keeping that formation after David Prutton replaced Ben Marshall five minutes later. It meant a wide role for Sanchez Watt, who had taken over from Ryan Lowe up front in the 61st minute.
It was a frustrating afternoon for Lowe. He missed an early chance to secure a 2-0 lead, by delaying his shot when put through. He shot at the keeper early in the second half, then twice was waiting unmarked in good positions but did not receive ball as Lines shot tamely at Thorsten Stuckmann and Tavernier drove wildly wide after a surging run.
What did count was the second goal, with the help of a deflection - it looked to me like an intended cross by Ben Marshall when he whipped the ball from the left with his right foot and it sped into the far corner of the net, in the 42nd minute.
Preston, who suffered the blow of losing Iain Hume in the 31st
minute, had some joy through Danny Mayor on the right wing, and could point to second-half missed chances for centre -half (and Owls fan) Jamie McCombe, who shot over the bar, and ex-Wednesday trialist forward Juvhel Tsoumou, who headed straight at Weaver.
Both sets of fans had appeals for handball turned down. The alleged offenders were Llera, when it was 1-0 - but significantly none of the Preston players appealed - and McCombe, when nearest man O’Grady did seem to complain.
But Wednesday were the better side and should have been given the opportunity to reach a more reflective scoreline via a 90th-minute penalty, refused by the ref after lively Watt had been brought down.
News of Stephen Bywater’s return on a free transfer rounded off a pleasing end to 2011 and fanned hopes of an even happier New Year.