MATCH VERDICT: Pride and passion restored on a GREAT Friday for Owls: Sheffield Wednesday 4 Preston North End 1

Demons were exorcised; pride restored. No more boos, just the vastly more welcome sound of Hillsborough once again hailing heroes.

Friday, 30th March 2018, 8:36 pm
Updated Friday, 30th March 2018, 8:40 pm
Unbelievable Scenes after Atdhe Nuhiu's wonder goal.....Pic Steve Ellis

When Sheffield Wednesday took on Preston on the opening day they left Deepdale an angry mass of frustration and that awful performance set the tone for what would become a troublesome campaign.

In between then and now, a host of key players had been forced out of action through injury and that fundamentally played a huge part in this forgettable season’s woes.

Joyous Owls scorers Joao,Nuhiu and Forestieri.....Pic Steve Ellis

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

However, some of those players were beginning to come back and four who had missed large chunks of this term were again on the pitch, together.

All of them played a pivotal role in a performance that for 45 minutes was a nostalgic throwback to the heady days of two years ago.

Whether Tom Lees, Sam Hutchinson, Barry Bannan and Fernando Forestieri - or anyone else who played on the opening day - mentioned anything about that fateful performance during the week, only the squad will know. But it appeared as though this team were playing for pride and a chance to show that this is the real Sheffield Wednesday.

The first half was a little bit more akin to what has been served up for a lot of this season. Wednesday looked disjointed and unsure about how to deal with Preston’s impressive attacking threat. As a result they were either pressing high up the pitch, or sitting deep and doing neither of them particularly well.

Fernando Forrstieri back with a bang has he scores a free kick for the Owls fourth.....Pic Steve Ellis

Adam Reach was covering too many areas of the pitch and leaving Atdhe Nuhiu - a lot more on him later - ploughing a lone furrow up front. The midfield hadn’t really taken control of the game and the defence was coming under pressure because of that.

To their credit, Tom Lees, Frederico Venancio and Daniel Pudil, dealt with most of what Preston threw at them and what they let by, the Owls were spared by some wasteful finishing.

The visitors had a few opportunities in the first 45 minutes. Tommy Barkhuizen fired over in the opening few minutes, Paul Huntington headed wide when well-placed and Ben Davies forced a decent save from Joe Wildsmith on the stroke of half time.

Earlier in the game, hearts were in collective mouths when Sam Hutchinson went down clutching his knee and the stretcher was called for.

Owls scorer Lucas Joao....Pic Steve Ellis

Eventually, to the relief of the majority in the ground, the midfielder got up and played on. He wouldn’t, however, return for the second half and that would prove to be crucial.

Lucas Joao replaced Hutchinson and within a couple of minutes a dreary display had turned into a high-tempo attacking feast for Wednesdayites.

Jack Hunt went on a superb run down the right and crossed low into the box, where Joao deftly flicked on and Nuhiu steadied himself before rifling home from close range.

Soon after, the lead was doubled and Joao this time was the finisher.

Bannan’s beautifully lofted ball from deep met Joao’s intelligent run and the striker sent a looping header over the despairing arms of Declan Rudd in the Preston goal.

Suddenly a home crowd which had been largely frustrated by Preston’s gamesmanship and referee Tim Robinson’s inability to stop it, were lifting the roof off Hillsborough.

There would be plenty of drama still to come. Preston pulled one back through Louis Moult and then piled on the pressure in search of another one of those late goals that have cost Wednesday recently.

The home side defended manfully, led magnificently by Lees and helped by a much more coherent midfield, and began to pick Preston off on the counter.

On a day of huge cheers, one would be saved for a special comeback. Fernando Forestieri replaced Bannan on 78 minutes to huge cheers as the Argentinian made his first appearance since a defeat to Bolton in the League Cup in August. He hadn’t played at Hillsborough at all this season.

And with that, at the end came a few minutes of sheer brilliance to cap off a memorable day.

Joyous Owls scorers Joao,Nuhiu and Forestieri.....Pic Steve Ellis

Wednesday had a corner on the right, picked up by Nuhiu who decided he was going to do everything himself. And why not?

The Kosovo international beat two men with a couple of spellbinding touches then curled into the top corner. Simply sensational.

This was a good Friday, indeed. It became a great one when Forestieri bent a free kick into the net and the place erupted. A perfect end and with some ghosts laid to rest.

Amid the South Yorkshire rain, it suddenly looks bright again.

Wednesday: Wildsmith, Venancio, Lees, Pudil, Hunt (Palmer 74), Pelupessy, Hutchinson (Joao 46), Bannan (Forestieri 77), Fox, Reach, Nuhiu. Subs (not used): Jones, Rhodes, Butterfield, Dawson. PNE: Rudd, Fisher (Harrop 77) Huntington, Davies, Earl, Pearson, Gallagher (Johnson 70), Barkhuizen, Browne, Robinson, Maguire (Moult 70). Subs (not used): Cunningham, Clarke, Bodin, Maxwell. Referee: Tim Robinson (West Sussex) Attendance: 26,588

Fernando Forrstieri back with a bang has he scores a free kick for the Owls fourth.....Pic Steve Ellis
Owls scorer Lucas Joao....Pic Steve Ellis