Sheffield Wednesday match report: Bristol City 1 Owls 2
Perhaps Sheffield Wednesday are the real deal this season.
Jos Luhukay's men delivered a statement of promotion intent to the rest of the Championship by grinding out three points at Bristol City.
Lucas Joao stepped up off the bench to hit a second half double to fire the Owls into the Championship play-off positions heading into the second international break.
Their search for a clean sheet goes on as Matt Taylor's 80th minute penalty set up a nervy finish.
But Wednesday dug deep to extend their unbeaten league run to four matches.
The result was also sweet revenge for their 4-0 thumping at Ashton Gate last March when Bobby Reid bagged hat-trick. That defeat remains the lowest point of Luhukay's Owls reign.
However, the Dutchman has since transformed the club's fortunes, turning them into a difficult side to beat. One defeat in the last nine outings underlines the progress the team have made under Luhukay.
Eyebrows were raised over Luhukay's conservative team selection. He left out Atdhe Nuhiu and Fernando Forestieri, packing the team with plenty of defenders. Despite a poor first half showing, Joao came up trumps after the break, taking his goal tally to five for the season.
There was little to choose between the two sides early on.
Wednesday, wearing their all grey away strip, created the first opportunity of note. Adam Reach, seeking a third goal in as many matches, latched on to Barry Bannan's raking pass only to see his left foot strike expertly blocked by Niki Maenpaa.
Moments later, the Robins spurned a glorious opportunity to take the lead when Famara Diedhiou was brilliantly denied in a one-on-one situation by Cameron Dawson after the Owls' appeals for an offside flag fell on deaf ears.
The visitors, lining up in a 3-4-3 formation, with Reach on the right wing and Matt Penney stationed on the left, were living dangerously defensively as Lloyd Kelly struck the post for the Robins after Wednesday failed to deal effectively with a free-kick. Bristol City recycled possession and defender Adam Webster's close range drive was deflected behind for a corner.
Wednesday were forced into an attacking alteration in the 18th minute when Steven Fletcher, one of three changes to the starting line-up, was forced off after picking up an injury. Lucas Joao, Fletcher's replacement, was tasked with the job of leading the line.
But it was all Bristol as Kelly fizzed in a dangerous delivery from the left which Dawson got an important hand to.
There was a lack of cohesion and rhythm to the Owls' play. They struggled to retain possession and kept giving the ball away cheaply.
The Robins carried the greater attacking threat, with Jamie Paterson testing the reflexes of Dawson from long range but the academy graduate was equal to it.
Despite being second best for long periods, Wednesday could have opened the scoring in the 40th minute. Reach, oozing confidence, let fly from 25 yards but Maenpaa kept his rasping, swerving shot out with his feet.
From Matt Penney's resulting corner, Tom Lees peeled away unmarked at the back post to head the ball back across the face of goal but Joao was unable to turn it in.
Luhukay's team made a positive start after theÂ break, Bannan forcing Maenpaa into a smart save at his near post with a deft little chip after linking up neatly with Joao.
It then took an inch perfect sliding challenge from Daniel Pudil to block Matty Taylor's fierce effort following a teasing cross by Jay Dasilva. Joshn Brownhill blazed over the rebound to add to the home side's frustration.
With just over half an hour remaining, Luhukay freshened up his attacking options, bringing on Fernando Forestieri for Thorniley.
After Pudil fired over, Joao put Wednesday ahead in the 64th minute. He raced on to a lovely crossfield pass from Bannan, outmuscled Robins defender Baker before calmly sending a low right foot shot past Maenpaa.
Things got even better for Wednesday when Joao bagged his second two minutes later. He collected Josh Onomah's pass before cutting inside on to his right foot and rifling an unstoppable right effort out of Maenpaa's reach.
The hosts immediately responded through Paterson, who volleyed straight at Dawson when he should have done better.
The Robins improved as an attacking force after a triple substitution midway through the half. Callum O'Dowda blazed over after good approach play but the Owls failed to heed that warning and City reduced the deficit with 10 minutes left from the penalty spot after Onomah was adjudged to have bundled over O'Dowda. Matty Taylor stepped up and lashed home from 12 yards.
It was far from a perfect performance. It was unconvincing at times. But Wednesday got the job done and Luhukay deserves plenty of plaudits for the team's positive sequence of results.
Bristol City: Maenpaa; Webster, Baker, Kelly (Watkins 69); Hunt, Pack, Brownhill, Paterson (Weimann 69), Dasilva; Taylor, Diedhiou (O'Dowda 69). Subs: O'Leary, Walsh, Hegeler, Eliasson.
Owls: Dawson; Lees, Hector, Pudil; Palmer, Bannan (Pelupessy 80), Onomah, Thorniley (Forestieri 58); Reach, Penney, Fletcher (Joao 18). Substitutes: Wildsmith, Baker, Kirby, Nuhiu.
Attendance: 20,102 (1,719)
Referee: Andy Davies (Hampshire)
Star man: Michael Hector