Sheffield Wednesday: Top two within Reach, says goal hero Adam ... Preston 1 Owls 1
Little went Adam Reach's way on his return to Deepdale.
The versatile forward’s passing, shooting and general decision-making was below par by his usual high standard. As hard as Reach worked, barely anything he tried came off.
Reach was not the only player wearing a black and orange shirt who had an off day. The vast majority of them failed to turn up and play anywhere near close to their best.
It was a laboured, lack-lustre team performance which should have yielded zero points.
Yet Reach salvaged a point for Carlos Carvalhal’s side with virtually the last kick of the match and the result may prove to be one of their biggest and most important of the season.
Reach, who spent last term on loan at Preston North End, broke his old club’s heart, lashing home following a 94th -minute goalmouth scramble which had seen two Wednesday shots blocked.
Owls, unrecognisable from the side who triumphed at leaders Newcastle United on Boxing Day, deservedly went behind when Sam Hutchinson turned Callum Robinson’s cross into his own net in the 77th minute.
But Reach, switched from left wing to a striking role and then back to the flank, produced a moment of quality to ensure Wednesday ended 2016 in good spirits.
“I was pretty poor today but the manager kept faith with me and I made sure I worked hard to the last minute,” said a refreshingly candid Reach.
There was no spark to the Owls. No creativity. No enterprising, free-flowing football.The team looked leggy and sluggish and badly missed the energy and drive of Fernando Forestieri and Kieran Lee.
Preston, eager to atone for their home thrashing against Leeds United over the festive period, had the better of the first half and the chances but had nothing to show for it.
Keiren Westwood pulled off a smart stop to turn away Callum Robinson’s 20-yard drive and then Simon Makienok headed the Preston forward’s lovely centre off target when well placed.
It was a match packed full of industry but lacking in quality and the loudest cheer of the afternoon came minutes before half-time when Alex Baptiste’s clearance cleared the main-stand roof. It summed up a forgettable contest.
Preston will feel aggrieved not to have picked up maximum points after dominating the second period. Wednesday were second best and the hosts would have been out of sight had their finishing been up to scratch.
Preston boss Simon Grayson said: “The players played very well and made a very good team look very average. Sheffield Wednesday shouldn’t have got anything out of the game.” All very fair, accurate comments.
However, one of the main reasons why the Owls are up near the top of the league is their never-say-die attitude.
This team never knows when it is beaten and it is no fluke they have scored so many late goals this season.
Reach said: “I came off the pitch a hell of a lot happier than I would have done if we had lost.
“In big games, when you come away with a result like that you forget about the performance.
“It is more about the determination we showed towards the end. We will take the positives and move on to Monday. We are a different team at home with the crowd behind us and we can really start playing expansive football and hopefully that will be too much for Wolves and we will come away with three points.”
While the club-record recruit was relieved to open his Owls goalscoring account, Reach felt tiredness was partly to blame for his and the team’s poor display.
He said: “It is nice to get that weight off my shoulders with my first goal, although we only got a point, which was disappointing as we didn’t play as well as we could.
“But a point here is always a positive especially after the game with Newcastle as we were tired.
“I was tired by the end but that was understandable as we put our all in at Newcastle on Boxing Day so fatigue always sets in, but we overcame that to take the point.
“In months to come, we might look back on this point and think it was well earned.
“We have another game coming up quickly on Monday so we have to make sure we recover well and are ready to go again.”
A MISSED CHANCE
Despite the late drama, there was still a tinge of disappointment that Wednesday couldn’t secure all three points. Victory would have taken them up to third.
“It does feel like a missed opportunity and we are all slightly disappointed we didn’t capitalise on that,” said Reach. “But other teams dropped points and that’s how tough the Championship is.
“You can never come to Preston or another team and just expect to pick up three points.
“You have to work hard for it and at Preston we huffed and puffed and maybe the quality wasn’t there, but the determination and team spirit was and we came away with a point”
He still believes they can finish in the automatic promotion spots.
Reach insisted: “We are more than capable of finishing in the top two. We proved that by going to Newcastle and beating them.
“It’s not over. There are still another 20-odd games left in the season.
“There are a lot of games some weeks so you can quickly find yourself moving up or down the table so it is going to be an interesting second half to the season.
“I think with the strength of our squad we should be closer to the top two. A lot of the top teams dropped points over the weekend.
His late strike capped off a “great 12 months” for Reach, who hopes 2017 will be another memorable year for him and the club.