Sheffield Wednesday 3 Birmingham City 0: Rhodes and Winnall off the mark in win over Blues

GOAL...Owls Sam Winnall

GOAL...Owls Sam Winnall

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Jordan Rhodes couldn’t have asked for a better start to his Owls career.

The 27-year-old has made an instant impact, chipping in with an assist and a goal in two starts for the Championship club.

Jordan Rhodes wheels away to celebrate his first goal for Sheffield Wednesday.

Jordan Rhodes wheels away to celebrate his first goal for Sheffield Wednesday.

No player has scored more goals in English football since August 2009 than Rhodes and he duly capped his home debut in style.

The Scotland international is a real livewire in the penalty area and his ninth minute header paved the way for Wednesday to seal back-to-back Championship victories for the first time since Boxing Day.

Sam Winnall and substitute Adam Reach put extra gloss on the final scoreline, scoring in the final 10 minutes to help the Owls move five points clear of seventh-placed Norwich City.

It was harsh on Birmingham, who hit the woodwork three times either side of the interval, but they paid their price for defensive lapses.

Owls Sam Winnall battles away

Owls Sam Winnall battles away

“To come off with three goals and three points is a good night,” admitted Rhodes. “It is nice to get off the mark.”

A number of fans and pundits had been calling for Carlos Carvalhal to field the talismanic Fernando Forestieri on the left flank - and they finally got their wish. Reach made way.

It is not a role which is unfamiliar to Forestieri, with the former Italian Under-21 international putting in a string of eye-catching performances when out wide last season.

Wednesday have been guilty of starting matches slowly this season.

GOAL...Owls Sam Winnall scores second goal

GOAL...Owls Sam Winnall scores second goal

Not here.

In front of the TV cameras for the second Friday night running, Carvalhal’s team started on the front foot and went for the jugular from the off.

Winnall, one of three changes, was brilliantly denied by Tomasz Kuszczak in the third minute.

They didn’t have things all their own way and Vincent Sasso, deputising again for the injured Tom Lees, recovered well to prevent Birmingham’s leading marksman Lukas Jutkiewicz from testing the reflexes of Keiren Westwood.

Victory salute from Jordan Rhodes at the final whistle....Pic Steve Ellis

Victory salute from Jordan Rhodes at the final whistle....Pic Steve Ellis

In recent weeks, Barry Bannan has stood out for the Owls and the little midfielder tried his luck from long range, with Kuszczak spilling his effort but the covering Jonathan Grounds spared the Pole’s blushes. Winnall then fired over as Wednesday continued to cause problems.

There was purpose, tempo and fluidity to the Owls’ build up play which had been sorely lacking against Wigan last week.

It was a confident, bright opening and the hosts deservedly broke the deadlock in the ninth minute when home debutant Rhodes climbed above the Birmingham defence to head in Ross Wallace’s free-kick. It was a trademark, predatory finish by Rhodes.

He sprinted 50 yards to celebrate the goal with his dad Andy, who is the Owls’ goalkeeping coach. The pair warmly embraced. It was a lovely father and son moment.

Birmingham’s response to falling behind was excellent. The Blues, who controversially axed Gary Rowett in December, replacing him with Gianfranco Zola, hit the woodwork twice in quick succession.

Sam Hutchinson, brought back into midfield after serving a two-match suspension, headed Craig Gardner’s dangerous set piece against his own post before Blues full-back Emilio Nsue turned sharply and unleashed a fierce left foot piledriver which struck Westwood’s right hand upright.

Owls Ross Wallace with Citys Cheick Keita

Owls Ross Wallace with Citys Cheick Keita

The Rhodes and Winnall double act kept the Blues’ defence on their toes and Winnall was inches away from doubling Wednesday’s lead, with the former Barnsley man’s shot deflecting narrowly wide after good work by Forestieri. Winnall also glanced Hunt’s teasing cross off target after neat approach play.

Birmingham, unchanged from the side who beat Fulham last weekend, enjoyed plenty of possession but Wednesday carried the greater attacking threat.

Two minutes after the restart, Bannan fed in-form wide man Wallace, who released Winnall but the striker’s attempt from an acute angle was expertly kept out by Kuszczak. Rhodes and Forestieri were left frustrated in the middle.

Defensively the Owls struggled at times to deal with Craig Gardner’s set pieces. He pulled the strings in the middle of the park for the Blues and curled a free-kick into the sidenetting after Morgan Fox was adjudged to have upended Jerome Sinclair.

Winnall nodded Wallace’s corner over the top but Wednesday were then forced to soak up a sustained period of pressure from Birmingham.

David Davis’s deflected strike flew inches over and moments later Gardner struck the crossbar with a venomous drive from long range.

Wednesday rode their luck and picked the Blues off on the counter attack in the 80th minute courtesy of Winnall, whose powerful header from Hunt’s delightful cross gave Kuszczak no chance.

Winnall turned provider for the third. He cleverily played in Reach and the winger coolly drilled a shot low past Kuszczak.

It was not always comfortable after the break but Wednesday stepped things up when they needed to and the result stretches their unbeaten home run to six matches.

It was a morale-boosting win and the Owls have now gone over two months and more than seven and a half hours without conceding in their own backyard.

Owls: Westwood; Hunt, Sasso, Loovens, Fox; Wallace (McManaman 85), Bannan (Abdi 81), Hutchinson, Forestieri (Reach 67); Winnall, Rhodes. Substitutes: Wildsmith, Palmer, Semedo, McManaman, Nuhiu.

Birmingham: Kuszczak; Nsue, Robinson, Grounds, Keita; Gleeson; Kieftenbeld (Frei 63), Davis; Gardner; Sinclair (Adams 72), Jutkiewicz. Substitutes: Legzdins, Stewart, Dacres-Copley, O’Keeffe, Bielik.

Attendance: 24,805

Referee Chris Kavanagh (Lancashire)

Star man: Sam Winnall

Owls Keiren Westwood collects

Owls Keiren Westwood collects

Owls skipper Glenn Loovens beats Citys Jerome Sinclair

Owls skipper Glenn Loovens beats Citys Jerome Sinclair

GOAL...Owls Adam Reach celebrates his goal and Wednesday's third

GOAL...Owls Adam Reach celebrates his goal and Wednesday's third

Owls' Sam Winnall celebrates his goal with Jordan Rhodes

Owls' Sam Winnall celebrates his goal with Jordan Rhodes

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