Sheffield Wednesday left with battle scars and a suspension after huge Preston North End win

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Sheffield Wednesday emptied their tanks at at Deepdale as they battled to a huge victory over Preston North End.

As you’d expect after their win over Leeds United on Boxing Day, the hosts started the game confidently. It was they who were having the bulk of the possession as they probed the Owls backline, but without ever really testing Cameron Dawson in the Wednesday net.

Alan Browne had an effort from range, but it was the visitors who had the biggest chance in the early stages as Djeidi Gassama – back in the XI – slalomed his way back and forth to beat his man before dinking the ball to Will Vaulks approaching the far post. Unfortunately, though, his header was off target.

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Ryan Lowe’s side had plenty of the ball, but it was Wednesday who looked the most purposeful when they had hold of it. It felt clear that Danny Röhl’s plan was to use his youthful attackers to hit Preston on the break, and for that they didn’t need to be in charge of the possession stats.

Over 5,000 Wednesdayites were on hand to do their bit, too, working their way through various chants in the North End of one of the country’s most historic stadiums, ‘Daddy Cool’ being one of them, of course.

As the half hour mark approached there was an older hit doing the rounds, a Shakira hit that was heard plenty of times last season… Djeidi Gassama’s flick found Bailey Cadamarteri, and his perfectly weighted pass slotted through Marvin Johnson. A touch into space set him free, and his finish was as calm as you like past Freddie Woodman. 1-0. Waka Waka.

The gameplan was working perfectly. Too perfectly, some may have thought. And so it would come to pass as a bittersweet first half progressed… On 35 minutes it was Akin Famewo, forced off by injury as Liam Palmer took his place – five minutes later it was Will Vaulks, the midfielder coming off for George Byers.

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Two of Wednesday’s substitution slots were gone, neither part of Röhl’s plans, and after starting the game with a back five the German had to reshuffle to a back four. Palmer sat in defensive midfield, a role he famously took on back in May in a certain game at Hillsborough.

Half time came and went, and while Lowe’s side remained in charge of possession they were now starting to cause problems for the Owls too. Liam Millar, who had caused plenty of problems down the left hit the crossbar with a fine curling effort, and they were starting to turn the screw.

Röhl, with his only remaining roll of the dice, went for a triple substitution to try and change things – on came Tyreeq Bakinson, Ashley Fletcher and Josh Windass as he made his return from injury. Gassama, Barry Bannan and Cadamarteri made way.

Wednesday were keeping them at bay, Dawson making some good claims as balls were fired into the box, and on numerous occasions Preston's attempts to equalise were thwarted by the towering figure of Michael Ihiekwe as he cleared time and time again.

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And the task was to get even harder for the visitors... With five minutes left on the clock the Owls were down to 10. It wasn't clear at the time whether it was for a late tackle or something that happened after it, but Byers was given his marching orders and for the second game in a row Wednesday had a new suspension to to add to their injury woes.

But no matter how much they pushed, they couldn't find a way past the steely Owls. For seven minutes the travelling Wednesday faithful bit their nails and held their breath, but in the end they got what they so vastly deserved. A Dawson claim from a cross was celebrated like a goal, and then the final whistle went. Three huge points to end 2023.

This season they'd seen their side pick up just four points from 12 games on the road, seen just six goals scored. This evening it became seven points and seven goals. And boy did they deserve tonight. The gap on fourth bottom is back to six, and Wednesday's hopes survival remain alive.

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