Wednesday have spent big money on strengthening their attacking options this season - and their much-vaunted forward line made all the difference against relegated Rotherham United last night.
Some Wednesdayites have recently criticised Carlos Carvalhal’s team selection and tactics following the team’s dismal run of form.
But the Portuguese chief fielded an attack-minded side versus the bottom club. Few people would have expected Carvalhal to deploy Steven Fletcher, Gary Hooper and Jordan Rhodes up front - and his bold selection paid off as Wednesday claimed their first victory in five matches to move back into the Championship’s play-off positions.
Man of the match Fletcher’s first half brace condemned the Millers to a club-record ninth successive league defeat.
It was a disciplined, workmanlike performance by the Owls and the final scoreline went some way towards silencing their doubters.
Wednesday maintained their impressive record at Rotherham. It was a third successive victory at the AESSEAL New York Stadium and means Wednesday haven’t lost on their last 11 trips to their neighbours. You have to go back to 1976 for the last time Rotherham beat the Owls on home soil courtesy of a goal by Dick Habbin at Millmoor.
The Owls dominated possession early on but created few clear-cut openings. Wallace tried his luck from long range following good hold up play by Rhodes but the Scot dragged his attempt well wide.
The experiment to go with the 4-4-2 midfield diamond tactic was working a treat for the visitors and Will Vaulks had to be alert cut out an Adam Reach centre after a neat move down the left flank. Gary Hooper showed some neat touches at the tip of the Owls’ new system.
But Rotherham, playing for pride after losing their fight to stay up last weekend, could have opened the scoring in the 13th minute when Jon Taylor latched on to Carlton Morris’s flick - but the winger’s curling shot with the outside of his right foot curled agonisingly the wrong side of Keiren Westwood’s left hand upright.
It was a glorious chance for the Millers to stun the promotion-chasers and Carvalhal’s side made them pay for their profligacy.
Wallace slipped in Fletcher, making his first start since January 14, and the Scotland international lashed a low shot past ex-Wednesday shot-stopper Lewis Price.
TV replays suggested Fletcher, who scored a last-gasp penalty in the reverse fixture, was offisde - a piece of good fortune and exactly what the Owls needed to calm their nerves.
It is the type of contentious decision that goes against teams near the bottom of the table.
Despite that setback, Rotherham showed plenty of spirit and determination but their lack of quality in the final third cost them dearly.
Danny Ward, a January transfer target for the Owls, bent a 20-yard free-kick up and over the wall but Westwood was equal to it.
Three minutes before half-time, the Millers wasted a great chance to restore parity through Norwich City loanee Morris. Ward glided forward and whipped in a superb cross which Morris headed sraight at Westwood from inside the six-yard box.
Interim Rotherham boss Paul Warne promised they would fight “tooth and nail” against their local rivals and Ward continued to look dangerous as he fired into the side-netting.
And Fletcher doubled Wednesday’s advantage on the stroke of half-time, rising highest at the back post to nod in Jack Hunt’s fine delivery.
Fletcher’s second rattled Rotherham and the big forward almost completed his hat-trick immediately after the restart but was thwarted by an inch perfect tackle by Richard Wood, who was sent off at Hillsborough.
Oozing with confidence, the Owls pressed for a third and Price turned behind Wallace’s rasping effort before keeping out Tom Lees’ firm header.
The Millers, sentenced to the drop with seven matches to spare, had a decent penalty shout waved away when Hunt appeared to pull back Wood but referee Tony Harrington was not interested.
Chances were at a premium in the second half, with Wednesday content to sit and defend their lead. Rhodes’ header forced Price into action after a peach of a cross by Barry Bannan, who switched to the left wing after Carvalhal introduced Jose Semedo to stiffen up the middle of the park.
Vaulks fired wide in the closing stages for Rotherham, who kept battling to the end, but the Owls stayed solid to record a first clean sheet in 10 outings.
Rotherham: Price; Fisher, Ajayi, Wood, Mattock; Taylor (Clarke-Harris 68), Smallwood (Bray 85), Vaulks, Newell; Morris (Forde 81), Ward. Substitutes: O’Donnell, Belaid, Purrington, Yates.
Owls: Westwood; Hunt, Lees, Loovens, Reach; Wallace, Jones, Bannan, Hooper (Semedo 60); Fletcher (68), Rhodes (Winnall 82). Substitutes: Wildsmith, McManaman, Palmer, Pudil.
Attendance: 10,669 (2,573)
Star man: Steven Fletcher
Referee: Tony Harrington (Cleveland)