How Jordan Rhodes' return to scoring form helped the Owls hit the safety figure: Hull 0 Sheffield Wednesday 1
The finishing line is in sight ... and Wednesday have finally reached the magical 50-point mark.
Saturday’s hard-earned win over Hull City has secured the Owls’ Championship status for next season.
Victory lifted them up to 16th in the rankings, 12 points clear of the drop zone with three matches remaining.
Jordan Rhodes’ first-half header was the difference between the teams at the KCOM Stadium as Wednesday clinched a fourth victory in their last six outings.
The Owls were forced to dig deep after the break and survive a late onslaught. They rode their luck, with the Tigers having a late goal disallowed for offside before Angus MacDonald inexplicably headed wide from close range deep into added-on time.
But Wednesday defended well collectively and individually to hold on and claim their first clean sheet in 12 attempts.
Delighted boss Jos Luhukay said: “When we saw the last games from Hull, four and five goals scored while we lost the last two games, (we knew it would be) a very difficult game for us. The mentality and the character in my team is fantastic.
“We are very much together with good spirit.”
Luhukay made five changes to his starting line-up, handing recalls to Jack Hunt, Frederico Venancio, George Boyd, Barry Bannan and Rhodes. His decision to also revert back to a three-man defence proved the right one.
And Rhodes arguably produced his best performance of the season. The £8 million striker, who has struggled to justify his hefty price tag since moving to Hillsborough, was a real focal point. His movement was sharp, he relieved the pressure off his defence by winning a number of free-kicks high up the pitch and always looked a threat.
Allan McGregor produced a stunning save in the fifth minute to keep out Rhodes’ header after a glorious cross by Adam Reach.
Rhodes did not let his head drop and he ended his 12-match goal drought in style, ghosting in between to two defenders to head home Jack Hunt’s centre.
“I’m delighted for Jordan,” said Hunt. “He worked really hard.
“The good thing about Jordan is you know he is going to be in between the sticks looking for crosses.
“He thrives on crosses and he got some really good service at Hull. When he gets the service, he scores goals.”
Had Atdhe Nuhiu and Lucas Joao been passed fit to play, Rhodes probably would not have started. He seized his chance to shine. He looked more like his old self.
Luhukay said: “Jordan has worked very hard in training and this goal was his reward.
“The confidence of strikers depends on goals so I am happy for Jordan to score and even more so because his goal won us the game.”
Hull thought they had salavaged a point in added on time when Abel Hernandez slid in to turn home Harry Wilson’s low cross. It was initially allowed to stand.
But after some discussion between referee Scott Duncan and the linesman, the goal was chalked off for offside. Both Hernandez and substitute Jarrod Bowen, who got the final touch a yard out, had strayed into offside positions so Duncan reversed his decision.
Hull boss Nigel Adkins: “We score a goal, the referee indicates a goal and points to the centre circle.
“The linesman runs towards the halfway line as they normally do when indicating a goal and obviously we’re celebrating then.
“And one of the players has asked the referee to go and speak to the linesman. They’ve had a conversation and disallowed the goal for offside. They both actually gave a goal then they’ve come up with the decision that it’s not a goal.
“It was very close. It doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree, it’s been given.”
Luhukay praised Duncan for reversing his decision.
“I saw the replay and there were two players in an offside position,” he said.
There was an amusing moment when play stopped in the second half of this Yorkshire derby after a squirrel raced on to the field.
No one of a Wednesday persuasion should go nuts after this result. There is still plenty of room for improvement and Luhukay will need to reshape his squad this summer.