Match Analysis: Nottingham Forest 0 Sheffield Wednesday 3 - Owls back to winning ways under stand-in boss Lee Bullen
After a turbulent Christmas, Wednesday's fans finally have something to shout about again.
The Owls began the post-Carlos Carvalhal era with a thrilling win at Nottingham Forest to end their seven-match winless run.
It was the perfect start for caretaker boss Lee Bullen, who was rewarded for fielding an attack-minded team. His team played with freedom, putting in an aggressive, hard-working display.
His bold team selection paid off.
“It was a fabulous win,” admitted Bullen.
He made four changes to the side who lost to Middlesbrough before Christmas and switched to a 4-3-3 formation.
Captain Glenn Loovens was passed fit to play, having shrugged off a quad injury, and replaced Frederico Venancio at centre-half. Loovens was rock solid.
Morgan Fox returned at left-back while Bullen also handed recalls to strikers Jordan Rhodes and Lucas Joao.
Wednesday, without Keiren Westwood, Jack Hunt, Tom Lees, Barry Bannan, Kieran Lee, George Boyd, Steven Fletcher or Fernando Forestieri due to injury, made a superb start, taking a fifth minute lead.
The hosts only partially cleared Ross Wallace’s corner and Reach lashed an unstoppable right foot volley from 22 yards past Jordan Smith. It was a stunning strike and Reach’s fourth goal of the campaign.
Bullen joked: “He normally trips over the ball when it lands on his right foot! It can only go downhill for him from here on in!
“It was an absolute fabulous strike. He’s got a hell of talent and he’s got a hell of a left foot.”
England Under-19 international Ben Brereton was Forest’s main threat in an entertaining, frantic first period. His pace and power caused the Owls problems down their left flank.
Soon after flashing a great ball across the face of goal, Brereton raced past Sam Hutchinson and his cross-shot narrowly evaded Tyler Walker, the son of former Owls and England defender Des, at the back post.
Forest dominated possession and territory for long periods but failed to make the most of their chances.
Joe Wildsmith, making his third successive start in the absence of Westwood, pulled off a series of fine saves. He turned away Kieran Dowell’s rasping left foot drive before rushing off his line to superbly deny Barrie McKay in a one-on-one situation as Forest pressed for a leveller.
But Wednesday looked lively themselves going forwards and Reach, who was industrious with and without the ball, had a shot deflected on to the top of net.
Rhodes forced Smith into action in the 24th minute. His low free-kick was kept out by the Forest shot-stopper after Joe Worrall clumsily brought Lucas Joao down.
The Forest fans were left fuming with referee Andrew Madley after he waved away their penalty appeals when Brereton went down under the challenge of Loovens.
Wildsmith then came to the Owls’ rescue again just after the half hour mark. McKay slipped in Ben Osborn with a lovely ball over the top of Wednesday’s defence but Wildsmith saved brilliantly with his feet.
Wednesday were forced into rejigging their forward line after top-scorer Gary Hooper picked up a knock. His injury handed Almen Abdi an opportunity to impress.
And the Owls finished the half strongly, with Smith parrying behind a fierce shot by Joao.
But Bullen’s side were awarded a penalty on the stroke of half-time. Fox was sent tumbling by Walker and Rhodes coolly stepped up to send Smith the wrong way from 12 yards.
It looked a soft decision but Wednesday weren’t complaining.
“I think the referee made the right decision,” said Bullen. “Goals change games.
“I thought in the first half we overplayed a little bit and our goalkeeper kept us in the game a couple of times. He made some great blocks.
“Nottingham Forest created one or two great opportunities but we rode that and ultimately I think we deserved to win.
“We took the opportunities that came our way, scored a wonder goal. We sneaked the second before half-time which made the half-time team talk a little easier.”
Moments after the restart, Brereton’s right foot piledriver deflected inches wide of the far post off Fox
Joao, a handful on the right, squared to Reach and he blazed over from long range before Joost van Aken limped off with an injury.
Smith produced a stunning save to tip Joao’s left foot attempt on to the crossbar as the Owls pressed for a killer third.
But Joao was not to be denied in the 65th minute, adding the coup de grace to an outstanding team performance.
Reach, an influential figure throughout, carried the ball forward from halfway and freed Joao, who danced his way into the penalty area before beating Smith with an emphatic finish.
Bullen said: “It (the victory) is a little bit bittersweet day because ultimately a really good man lost his job a couple of days ago. He’s a really good man and a really good coach.
“Sometimes the players have to take a little bit of responsibility for that and they have done. They have owned up to it and admitted that we haven’t played to the standards that we can.
“That’s the sad thing about modern football that sometimes you get that bounce from it.
“I’m gutted personally for the man. He is a good friend of mine and he will bounce back in football.”
Bullen and his players celebrated the three points with their 2,000 travelling fans at the end.
The Owls rode their luck at times but deserved a seventh straight league win over Forest.
As belated Christmas presents go on one of the great sporting dates of the year, they don’t come much better than this.
Forest: Smith; Lichaj, Worrall, Mancienne, Osborn; Bridcutt, Bouchalakis (Cash 69); Walker (Ward 80), Dowell, McKay (Cummings 70); Brereton. Substitutes: Henderson, Traore, Clough, Carayol.
Owls: Wildsmith; Palmer, Loovens, van Aken (Pudil 59), Fox; Wallace, Hutchinson, Reach; Hooper (Abdi 34); Rhodes, Joao (Jones 71). Substitutes: Dawson, Nuhiu, Matias, Butterfield.
Attendance: 28,635 (2,001)
Referee: Andy Madley (West Yorkshire)