Fraser Preston starred as Sheffield Wednesday’s Under-23s moved to the top of the Professional Development League Two North table after a 2-1 win over Bristol City at Hillsborough today.
The young forward claimed a first half double to seal the Owls’ fourth straight win and extend their unbeaten run to six matches.
Things were a little nervy towards the end when Robins dangerman Antoine Semenyo pulled one back but the hosts held their nerve to seal three vital points.
Wednesday rode their luck early on.
Marcus Daly tried his luck from long range but Ben Williams, on trial from Liverpool, was equal to it.
Antoine Semenyo was a handful in the first half for the Owls’ defence. Williams could only parry his long range strike in the 14th minute and Ash Baker produced a vital intervention to clear the loose ball to safety, with Tom Richards lurking inside the six-yard box.
It was one-way traffic as George Nurse blazed over from distance before lone striker Semenyo dragged an effort wide.
Wednesday, lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, struggled for fluency. Jordan Lonchar almost provided a moment of inspiration following a fine run but Preston could not quite latch on to his through ball as Jojo Wollacott sprinted off his line to come to the visitors rescue.
Baker showed great athleticism on the right to reach a long crossfield pass. The highly-rated defender managed to keep the ball in play and whip in a teasing cross which George Hirst failed to turn in. The England Under-19 international, heavily linked with a summer move to Manchester United earlier this week, missed his kick and the chance was gone.
But Wednesday broke the deadlock in the 25th minute. Hirst and Lonchar dovetailed effectively to put Preston in the clear and he calmly drilled a left foot shot into the bottom corner, giving Wollacott no chance.
Shortly after Preston’s opener, the Robins were denied what looked a blatant penalty when Williams appeared to bring down the lively Semenyo. The visitors protests fell on deaf ears as referee Garreth Rhodes awarded a goal kick.
It proved a big turning point as Preston doubled the Owls’ advantage in the 37th minute. Nobody closed him down and Preston cut in from the right and let fly from 30 yards, curling a spectacular shot into the top corner.
And Neil Thompson’s side nearly bagged a third on the stroke of half-time when Preston brilliantly slipped in Lonchar but the forward’s drive from an acute angle was hacked off the line by Harvey Smith.
Hirst should have put the contest out of the Robins reach after intercepting a dreadful free kick by Smith. He raced clear on goal but Wollacott produced a smart stop.
Moments later, the visitors reduced their deficit through Semenyo in the 65th minute after the Owls switched off defensively.
The pendulum swung the Robins way and they piled on the pressure. Williams had to be alert to prevent Semenyo and Richards from levelling things up.
It was a frustrating day for Hirst. He rose highest to meet substitute Ciaran Brennan’s pinpoint delivery but his header went straight into the arms of Wollacott.
Owls: Williams; Baker, O’Grady, Williams, West; Waldock (Borukov 77), Lee; Preston, Grant (Brennan 60), Lonchar(Hughes 69); Hirst. Substitutes: Wallis, Hunt.