Match analysis: Managerless Sheffield Wednesday give fans an early Christmas present by beating 10-man Preston North End
Crisis? What crisis?
Sheffield Wednesday kicked off the post Jos Luhukay era with a scrappy victory over Preston North End to lift the gloom around Hillsborough.
It was not pretty but the managerless Owls secured a fifth straight home win against the Lilywhites thanks to a second half header by Michael Hector.
Victory came less than 24 hours after Wednesday sacked Luhukay and only a couple of days after chairman Dejphon Chansiri announced he is putting the Championship club up for sale.
The Owls' narrow victory moved them up to 17th at the halfway point in the season, eight points above the drop zone.
And Wednesday are edging closer to appointing a new manager as I understand they are in advanced talks with Steve Bruce to replace Luhukay. Two of Bruce's former backroom team at Aston Villa - Steve Agnew and Stephen Clemence - watched the Owls see off 10-man Preston from the stands and an official announcement could come this week.
Caretaker Owls boss Lee Bullen said: "I know the lads were up in the stand. I think if you get the opportunity to speak to someone of the experience of Steve Bruce at this level, you don't knock that opportunity back."
After a dour opening quarter, the match sparked into life when Ben Pearson was shown a straight red card for a high tackle on Marco Matias in the 26th minute.
"I thought it was a rash challenge,' said Bullen. "Whether it was a red or not, I don't know. I have seen them given, seen them not given.
"I think the ball was there to be won, but the lad (Pearson) was a bit late.'
Alex Neil, Bullen's managerial counterpart, disagreed with the decision, claiming it was "really harsh".
He said: "I'm not sure it was a sending-off either and if I'm being honest I don't think it was the only decision which went against us.
"Some of the decisions were horrific, the match was stop-start."
Pearson played the ball first but he caught Matias high on hisÂ follow through. Referee David Coote had a good view on the incident and showed no hesitation in sending off Pearson.
It was a big turning point as Wednesday bossed possession and created the bulk of the clear-cut openings.
Steven Fletcher's header was acrobatically kept out by Declan Rudd while Lucas Joao hit the post in the dying embers ofÂ the first half.
Marco Matias was also thwarted after the restart but Wednesday kept on plugging away and were rewarded when Hector headed them in front after an outstanding cross by Adam Reach.
Tom Barkhuizen blazed over for Preston when-placed but the Owls' comfortably closed out the contest.
Bullen said: "It has been a tough few weeks and a tough 24 hours.
"A good man has lost his job. As much euphoria that's going around, that's fantastic, with any coach I've worked with you get to learn a lot and maybe you get to learn things you would maybe do differently.
"So from that point personally I want to wish Jos all the best."
Former Owls skipper Bullen said he learned of Luhukay's departure five minutes before Wednesday were due to start their afternoon training session on Monday.
'I couldn't believe it,' said Bullen.Â 'I did the press yesterday (Friday) morning, and went back up to the office.
'Jos wasn't there and I got a call from the chairman, saying he was coming up to the training ground. We had to delay training for 20 minutes until the chairman came and explained the situation.
'Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches, and luckily enough we got the result (against Preston).'
RECALLING THE OLD GUARD
Bullen pulled off a masterstroke by recalled the exiled players. It was a big statement of intent to include Keiren Westwood, Sam Hutchinson and George Boyd in the matchday squad.
None of them let him down.Â
Westwood, who never featured under Luhukay, kept a clean sheet in his first start in over 12 months. The crowd repeatedly sang the names of Westwood and Hutchinson. Westwood was barely called upon.
'It was a perfect goalkeeping performance because he had little to do,' said Bullen. 'Give credit to the defenders in front, it's not often we have been able to say that about the Sheffield Wednesday defensive unit this year.'
Westwood epitomised Wednesday's tenacious, spirited performance by expertly taking control of his own penalty area, including punching the ball to safety from a corner in as Preston pushed late on for an unlikely equaliser.
Bullen said: 'It was like '˜I'm not losing a goal today'. What a fantastic punch.
'What you get with Keiren is organising the back four. Credit to the lad for coming in after not playing in 12 months.'
AN EARLY CHRISTMAS PRESENT
The result wasÂ a baby step in the right direction. Bullen's decision to go with experience over youth paid off. There only named one academy player in the starting eleven.
But all that mattered was the three points.