Sheffield Wednesday verdict and reaction: Preston 1 Owls 0

The Owls fall behind. Pictures: Steve Ellis
The Owls fall behind. Pictures: Steve Ellis
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There’s really only one place to start with this match report.

Was referee Keith Stroud right to send off Fernando Forestieri?

A first booking for Fernando Forestieri  for diving

A first booking for Fernando Forestieri for diving

Four minutes after the re-start, Wednesday’s leading scorer tried to exchange passes with Atdhe Nuhiu and appeared to be obstructed by Paul Gallagher.

Forestieri expected a free-kick to be awarded.

Instead, Stroud, no more than 10 yards away from the incident, penalised Forestieri for simulation, brandishing the yellow card.

Ex-Wednesday player Michael Gray, now a TV pundit on Football on Five, felt Stroud was justified in booking Forestieri for diving.

Fernando Forestieri is sent off

Fernando Forestieri is sent off

“Why Forestieri has gone down in front of Paul Gallagher I don’t know,” he said. “It is a deserved yellow card. It is crazy.”

I thought it looked a harsh decision but Forestieri does have a habit of throwing himself theatrically to the ground. Perhaps his reputation preceded him.

“The first yellow card is unbelievable because it was a clear foul to us and he gives a yellow to Fernando,” said furious Owls boss Carlos Carvalhal.

“If he doesn’t go down he will be in front of goal in the area with a very clear chance to score.

Tom Lees threatens at a corner

Tom Lees threatens at a corner

“For me he didn’t dive in that moment because if he did it was not a good choice. He (Gallagher) blocked him. The first yellow is not correct.”

Carvalhal, though, refused to defend Forestieri over his second caution after the forward tried to handle Nuhiu’s delivery into the net.

Naive. Stupid. Daft. Take your pick. Given Forestieri was already on a yellow, it was a moment of madness from him.

Carvalhal, who has promised to deal with Forestieri internally following his dismissal, said: “Even though Fernando doesn’t touch the ball, he has tried to put his hand on the ball and the referee therefore was correct. I’m upset with the player over the second yellow.”

Dejection at the end for Barry Bannan

Dejection at the end for Barry Bannan

People should not be too hard on Forestieri. Yes, it was a big error of judgement by an experienced footballer. He should have known better and Wednesday will miss his services tomorrow night.

But the 26-year-old has been one of the team’s leading lights throughout the 2015/16 campaign. He is a match-winner and has, single-handedly on occasions, won the Owls points with his creativity, guile and goals.

“The big punishment to Fernando is that we lost the game and he knows he had a big influence in that situation,” said Carvalhal. “But our team win and lose together.”

Frankly, it would be just plain wrong to blame Forestieri’s ill discipline for Wednesday’s seven-match unbeaten Championship run coming to a halt.

The best team won on the day.

Preston, boasting one of the smaller budgets in the division, deserved maximum points, outplaying Carvalhal’s men for long periods.

They were well organised, lining up in a 5-3-2 formation, got men behind the ball and made life very uncomfortable for the Owls. It was easy to see why they are in the top 10 and have only lost four of their last 22 outings.

The hosts executed their game-plan superbly, harassing and closing down Wednesday at every opportunity.

Skipper Tom Clarke and Calum Woods had excellent afternoons defensively while Gallagher pulled the strings in the middle of the park.

It was a below-par, lacklustre display by Carvalhal’s side. At no stage in the contest did they ever put Preston seriously under the cosh.

Only goalkeeper Keiren Westwood and Daniel Pudil can hold their heads up high after another frustrating away day.

Westwood produced a fine reflex save in the first half to foil Joe Garner. His handling was immaculate and he commanded his area with authority.

Left-back Pudil put in a string of committed, full-blooded challenges and his distribution was generally good. What a find he has proven to be.

However, too many individuals had off days. For a team packed full of flair and quality at this level, Wednesday should be desperately disappointed that they failed to register a single shot on target.

That’s quite a staggering stat when you consider that the Owls are the top scorers in the league.

There was no end product to their intricate play in the final third.

Wednesday were lucky to go into the interval level, with Garner, twice) Adam Reach , twice, and Clarke all spurning chances to put Preston ahead.

After the restart, the Owls improved as an attacking unit. Gary Hooper flashed a low ball across the six-yard box before Pudil volleyed high over the bar when well placed.

But the momentum swung emphatically Preston’s way when Forestieri was sent off in the 66th minute. Moments later, Garner pounced, rising above Jack Hunt at the back post, to nod in Wood’s fine centre to claim his first goal since December.

To their credit, Wednesday kept battling and it took a fantastic last-ditch challenge by Clarke to prevent substitute Lucas Joao from turning in Hooper’s cross late on.

As Carvalhal has previously pointed out, ‘accidents’ do happen in this league. He will be hoping this was just an off day.

But the Owls’ record on the road leaves a lot to be desired. Four victories from 16 matches is a poor return and is threatening to undermine their play-off charge.

It is the team’s Achilles heel and needs to be addressed immediately if they are to prolong their season.

Preston: Lindegaard 7; Woods 8, Clarke 8, Huntington 7, Wright 7, Cunningham 7; Browne 6, Gallagher 8 (Pearson 88), Johnson 7; Reach 7, Garner 7 (Hugill 89). Substitutes: Kirkland, Kilkenny, Welsh, Robinson, Doyle.

Owls: Westwood 7; Hunt 6 (Matias 85), Lees 6, Sasso 6, Pudil 7; Wallace 6, Bannan 6, Lee 6 (McGugan 77), Forestieri 5; Hooper 6, Nuhiu 6 (Joao 69). Substitutes: Price, Turner, Bennett, Lopez.

Attendance: 16,923 (5,648).

Referee: Keith Stroud (Hampshire).

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