Preston North End 3 Sheffield Wednesday 3 – How Steve Bruce’s half-time rollicking inspired a second half comeback at Deepdale

There is a time and place to dish out a rollicking.

By dom.howson1
Friday, 26 April, 2019, 18:23

For Steve Bruce, that moment came on Saturday afternoon.

He tore into his Wednesday players in the dressing room after their flat, below-par first half performance at Preston North End. The Owls were second best and trailed 2-0 following an early Jayden Stockley header and a Tom Lees own goal.

Preston v Sheffield Wednesday... Owls skipper Tom Lees looking for a winner

"You don't want to know what I said to them at half-time," said Bruce. "It is the first time I have lost my temper since I have been here.

"They needed a wake-up call."

Bruce spent years playing under legendary Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, who was famed for his hairdryer treatment when players under-performed. Ferguson's ferocious temper sent tremors through even United's top stars.

And clearly Ferguson's influence has rubbed off on Bruce.

Preston v Sheffield Wednesday... Barry Bannan celebrates his equaliser

Alex Neil, the Preston chief, said: "I could hear Steve (Bruce) in the next dressing room at half-time, so I figured there would be a reaction from them."

A manager, of course, must use the 'hairdryer' sparingly or it loses its affect.

But Bruce's half-time blast inspired a superb fightback.

Atdhe Nuhiu celebrates his equaliser with Michael Hector

Two quickfire strikes from Fernando Forestieri and Atdhe Nuhiu rescued a point.

He said: "When the third one went in, I think everyone in the stadium thought it was game over.

"But fair play to the players. They came back at it and even with 10 men we could have won it. If one team was going to win it at the end, I thought it was going to be us."

THE FIRST HALF

There looked no way back for the Owls after an abject, dire opening 45 minutes.

Cameron Dawson, standing in for Keiren Westwood for the third match running in between the sticks, was powerless to prevent Stockley from giving Preston an early lead.

Dominic Iorfa, who was sent off in the closing stages after a reckless challenge on Darnell Fisher, was too slow to go out and close down Callum Robinson on the left flank. Robinson's teasing delivery was flicked on by Alan Browne, perfectly into the path of Stockley, who nodded home his first goal at Deepdale from five yards.

Barry Bannan and Steven Fletcher had efforts saved by Connor Ripley at the other end but the Lilywhites were superior in every facet of the game. They appeared the team that still had something left to play for and deservedly doubled the lead after Lees turned Joe Rafferty's deflected cross past Dawson.

It was arguably the worst display of Bruce's reign.

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"It looked as if we were ready for the beach," conceded Bruce. "Of course if you have that attitude in the Championship or in any league, you are going to get turned over.

“We were sloppy. We made too many mistakes and were not really at it and could have got punished for it.

"We have tightened up at the back but we made mistakes for the first and second goals. Two people for the first one lost the header and we didn't do the basics right.

"The second was a calamity.

“We were absolutely awful.”

THE REACTION

Bruce's half-time rant worked a treat as Wednesday looked unrecognisable after the break. They halved the deficit in the 49th minute, Bannan drilling a fierce shot home after a clever back heel by Marco Matias.

Evan after Browne restored Preston's two-goal cushion, Wednesday never let their heads drop. They kept plugging away and the hosts struggled to deal with the Owls' direct approach.

Atdhe Nuhiu's introduction from the bench helped swing things their way. His cross from the right was nodded in by Fernando Forestieri.

Nuhiu then completed a remarkable comeback, heading in Bannan's delightful centre from the left to spark wild scenes in the away end.

It took a clearance from near the goal-line by Ben Davies to stop Lucas Joao from grabbing a fourth in a thrilling finish.

Bruce said: "I think all the supporters wanted to see was a response from my team and they certainly got that in the second half. We were a different team altogether.

"We started to play to our strengths more.

“To come back twice from two goals down shows that little bit of determination and desire the players have got to get us to where we want to go. Their attitude has been terrific.

“To be honest, I think we could have gone on and won it. We had a wonderful chance off the line at the end.

"It was a great advert for Championship football. There were two teams of genuine, honest players out there.”

THE FUTURE

Despite securing an unlikely point at Preston, the result killed off the Owls' lingering hopes of sneaking into the play-offs.

Attentions have already turned to next season. As he readily admits, Bruce will have to make some unpopular calls as he aims to rebuild his squad.

"It is a big summer ahead,” acknowledged Bruce, who was delighted to see central midfielder Kieran Lee return to action as a late substitute following 16 months on the sidelines through injury. "There are some big decisions to be made.”​​​​​​​