A smile was never far away from Jos Luhukay’s face as he conducted his post-match press duties at the Stadium of Light.
The Dutchman, unsurprisingly, cut a happy, relaxed figure after watching his rejuvenated Owls side record a third successive Championship victory.
Second half strikes by Lucas Joao, Tom Lees and Atdhe Nuhiu sealed Wednesday’s first win at Sunderland since 1969.
It was a hard-working, professional performance by Luhukay’s men and the result nudged the Black Cats a step closer to League One.
There were times when the Owls rode their luck. Sunderland briefly rallied after falling 2-1 behind, with Lee Cattermole striking the inside of the post before Lynden Gooch went down in the penalty area under a challenge from Barry Bannan.
But Wednesday were ruthlessly efficient in front of goal and got the job done to send their 2,600 plus fans home in good spirits.
“I am proud of my team - in the last games we make good progress,” said Luhukay. “We are working hard for each other.”
Luhukay rejigged his backline, bringing in George Boyd for Daniel Pudil, who missed out altogether. Boyd’s recall at left wing back meant Morgan Fox moved to centre-half.
Joao also returned to the starting eleven following his impressive contribution in the Good Friday win over Preston North End. He replaced the injured Sam Hutchinson and was paired alongside in-form striker Nuhiu in attack.
On a bitterly cold afternoon on Wearside, Wednesday looked threatening in the early stages when Nuhiu’s flick on found Adam Reach and he released Joao. The forward sprinted past Sunderland skipper John O’Shea but his pull back was cleared.
After Reach’s tame effort was easily saved by Lee Camp, Morgan Fox limped off with an injury and replaced by Jordan Thorniley.
Sunderland, five points from safety with six matches remaining, gradually settled down and Lynden Gooch burst forward at pace before unleashing a fierce shot narrowly over from distance.
It was a good spell of pressure from the hosts, with Ovideo’s free kick from near the edge of the penalty area forcing Joe Wildsmith into action after a rash tackle by Thorniley on Paddy McNair.
With Joao’s pace and ability to run in behind, Wednesday always posed a threat on the counter attack. The Portugal international spread play out wide to Boyd, who fizzed a dangerous ball across the face of goal which Reach could not quite turn in.
Joao’s decision-making let him down in the 24th minute when he was in acres of space deep inside Sunderland’s half. He should have played in Boyd, who made a great run down the left, but he elected to hold on to the ball and lost possession.
Clear-cut opportunities were at a premium in a first half packed full of industry but low on genuine quality.
Jack Hunt and Joao combined well to feed Joey Pelupessy but the Dutch midfielder lacked composure when it mattered, sending a left foot drive high over the bar.
Sunderland wide man Aiden McGeady came closest to breaking the deadlock in a scrappy, dull opening 45 minutes. The former Owls loanee saw his free kick parried from outside the penalty area parried away by Wildsmith after Bannan unceremoniously brought down George Honeyman. Bannan vented his frustration over the decision but was yellow carded by referee Simon Hooper.
The visitors made a sloppy start after the break and Sunderland nearly punished them. McGeady rolled the ball towards Oviedo and the full-back’s attempted cross was deflected into the side-netting by Hunt.
After Bannan dragged a shot well wide from distance, Joao lashed in his eighth goal of the season in the 59th minute. Midfield playmaker Bannan floated in a teasing cross to the back post which was neatly knocked down by Nuhiu into the path of Joao and he found the back of the net for the second time in as many matches.
Their joy was short-lived as Sunderland levelled just 90 seconds later when an unmarked Honeyman headed in Gooch’s delightful cross. It was woeful marking from Wednesday and Honeyman made them pay.
However, the Owls regained the lead midway through the second half when captain Lees turned in Pelupessy’s fine free kick after Boyd had been bundled over by Donald Love.
The Black Cats were desperately unlucky not to restore parity through Cattermole, who struck the post with a right foot piledriver. Moments later, Sunderland had a decent penalty appeal waved away when Gooch appeared to be brought down by Bannan but Hooper was not interested. The call left Coleman fuming.
Coleman said: “The penalty incident was a defining moment; we get a penalty, they go to ten men, and we end up with nothing. That was hugely disappointing.
“I can’t understand why he didn’t make the decision.”
It proved a pivotal moment as Nuhiu put the game out of the home side’s reach in the 75th minute. Camp produced an excellent reflex save to thwart Joao after good play by Reach but Nuhiu headed in the rebound to claim his fifth goal in his last three outings.
There is just no stopping Nuhiu right now. The Kosovo international, out of contract at the end of the season, has been given a new lease of life by Luhukay, hitting nine goals and claiming four assists in 11 starts under the Dutchman.
“Our strikers are in good shape at the moment, scoring goals whenever they are getting chances,” said Luhukay.
The result lifted the Owls up to 16th and means they are now unbeaten in their last 12 league matches played in April (W8 D4), winning each of the last seven on the spin.
Sunderland: Camp, Love, Oviedo (Matthews 64), O’Shea, Wilson, McNair, Cattermole, Gooch (Asoro 83), Honeyman (Ejaria 83), McGeady, Fletcher. Substitutes: Steele,Lua Lua, Maja, McManaman.
Owls: Wildsmith; Venancio, Lees, Fox (Thorniley 8); Hunt, Pelupessy, Bannan (Jones 83), Reach, Boyd; Nuhiu, Joao (Forestieri 90). Substitutes: Dawson, Rhodes, Butterfield, Matias.
Attendance: 29,786 (2,640)
Referee: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire)