Sheffield Wednesday 4 Blackburn Rovers 2 – Why Steve Bruce’s side have nothing to lose and everything to gain going into the final eight games
When Steve Bruce officially took over the reins at Wednesday on January 31, the club were 17th in the Championship, 11 points off the play-offs and 11 points above the relegation zone.
Fast forward six and a half weeks and the Owls are on a roll.
Now Wednesday are just two points outside of the top-six after an impressive 10-match unbeaten streak. The Owls have accrued 20 points out of a possible 30 under Bruce to move into the top 10.
It has been an extraordinary transformation.
No longer is promotion a pipe dream.
Not only has Bruce given Wednesday more than a squeak of going up heading down the home stretch, he has also brought the feelgood factor back.
"We have given ourselves a chance now so let’s all enjoy the ride," said Bruce. Quite right too.
Momentum, crucially, is with the Owls going into the final eight fixtures of the regular season.
He said: “We’ve got to be happy full stop going into the international break. Credit to the players and to my staff who have worked tirelessly to turn things around.
"It has been a real team effort on and off the pitch. The staff who have come in with me and the lads I inherited have been fantastic.
"The players deserve all the credit because they have responded so well to what we’re trying to achieve.
“If you asked most sensible people a few months ago they’d have said we wouldn’t have a chance."
After a forgettable first half of the campaign, Wednesday now have a chance to achieve something truly remarkable. Bruce is making the impossible possible.
His team were made to work hard for their latest victory at a rain-drenched Hillsborough. Blackburn, without an away win since January 12, had their moments. A front three of Joe Rothwell, Bradley Dack and Danny Graham will cause plenty of teams problems at this level.
But injury-ravaged Wednesday were ruthlessly efficient in the final third. Bruce's troops had 10 attempts at goal and scored with all of their four shots on target.
It does help that the Owls have a centre-forward in a rich vein of form. Steven Fletcher, on his 100th Wednesday outing, tapped in a 10th minute opener after great build up play involving Adam Reach and Dominic Iorfa.
Fletcher, forced off later with a groin injury, said: “We are very dangerous down the flanks with the boys that we have got, with Reachy and Dom.
“Palms (Liam Palmer) has done very well on the left, especially with Rolando (Aarons) up there, his pace is great. It's the first time we have played with a bit of pace in the team and it's nice for me obviously to just get in the box.”
Despite having to rejig their midfield after losing Sam Hutchinson to injury, the Owls dominated early on. Reach and Michael Hector came close to exploiting Blackburn's makeshift defence.
But Rovers, seeking to complete a league double over Wednesday for the first time since the 1994-95 season when they won the Premier League title, improved as the half progressed. Dack was twice denied by Keiren Westwood.
Danny Graham somehow headed wide at the far post after the break as Rovers pressed for an equaliser.
However, Tony Mowbray's outfit gifted Wednesday three second half goals. Barry Bannan, an influential figure in the centre, claimed three assists to help the Owls secure back-to-back league wins.
Substitute Atdhe Nuhiu headed home with his first touch on the hour mark, Iorfa added a third and Marco Matias bagged the fourth.
Craig Conway and Elliott Bennett scored for the visitors, who were left to rue their defending from set pieces and a goalkeeping error by David Raya.
"The weather never helped, with the wind how it was and we were trying to get the ball down and play," insisted Fletcher. "It's easier said than done when the weather.
"We started well, had a few chances, got the early goal then kind of mellowed out a little bit and it probably wasn't a nice game to watch for a while after that.
"We managed to get back on the front foot and get another goal and Big Dom is chasing me now (for goals)."
While Bannan shone like a beacon in the engine room, Liam Palmer delivered another fine performance at left-back. Westwood produced several key saves, Iorfa claimed an assist and a goal while Fletcher and Nuhiu bullied Blackburn's depleted defence with their strength and physicality.
Victory avenged a defeat by the same scoreline at Ewood Park and kept the Owls’ good run going.
Given Wednesday’s crippling injury list, the break has come at a good time. It gives the players a much-needed breather following a busy schedule.
The Owls can ill-afford many slip-ups in the run in. But Bruce’s in-form squad have nothing to lose and everything to gain.