Sheffield Wednesday 4-1 Preston: Owls dent North End's play-off hopes
Last Updated: 01/04/18 7:15pm
Atdhe Nuhiu scored twice for the second game in a row as Sheffield Wednesday beat Preston 4-1 to further dent North End's play-off ambitions.
Lucas Joao and fit-again Fernando Forestieri were also on the scoresheet for Wednesday, with Louis Moult netting for the visitors as all five goals were scored in the second half.
The result lifts the Owls further away from the relegation dogfight in the Sky Bet Championship while a second defeat in three games sees Preston slip back to 10th.
Alex Neil's men are still in the thick of the fight for a top-six finish, however, and will be determined to get their campaign back on track when they play host to fellow promotion hopefuls Derby on Monday.
Wednesday came into Friday's match with confidence on the up having picked up four points from their previous two outings against Bolton and Leeds.
Nuhiu scored both goals against Leeds, including a last-gasp winner, and his double here alongside strikes from substitutes Joao and Forestieri - playing his first game since August after a knee injury - finished off the challenge of North End.
It was Preston who had the first chance of the match, though, with Tom Barkhuizen firing over after two minutes. That opportunity came following a good pass by Paul Gallagher, who had earlier been the victim of a challenge inside the first minute from Sam Hutchinson which earned the Wednesday man a yellow card.
The Owls responded and Morgan Fox was involved at both ends of the pitch inside a short space of time, firstly seeing his header easily gathered by visiting keeper Declan Rudd and then nicking the ball away from Callum Robinson inside the area as the Preston man shaped up to shoot.
Wednesday skipper Tom Lees also made a timely challenge to snuff out the threat posed by Sean Maguire before Nuhiu headed over after a free-kick caused problems for the visitors.
Preston captain Paul Huntington also headed over after meeting Gallagher's free-kick before Fox and Hutchinson - who was able to continue after receiving treatment midway through the half - both put long-range efforts over the bar as the interval came with the game still goalless.
Wednesday manager Jos Luhukay made a change at half-time, taking off Hutchinson and sending on Joao in his place, and within five minutes the hosts were ahead.
Jack Hunt's cross found Nuhiu in a central position inside the area and he controlled the ball before firing into the net.
Joao added a second goal just two minutes later, meeting Barry Bannan's cross with a well-placed header which looped over Rudd and into the net.
Preston had a great chance to pull a goal back when Maguire had the ball at his feet just a few yards out, but he was only able to stab his shot towards goal and Lees was on hand to clear.
There was another let-off for the home side shortly afterwards when Barkhuizen's pass across the face of goal looked certain to set up Robinson, but Hunt was first to the ball and it cannoned to safety off a post.
Preston boss Neil made a double substitution in the 70th minute, with Gallagher and Maguire replaced by Daniel Johnson and Moult, and the two newcomers combined to reduce the arrears inside two minutes.
Robinson's flick found Johnson and he broke free on the left-hand side of the area before firing in a cross which was tapped home by Moult from close range.
That gave Preston a lifeline, but their hopes of getting anything out of the game were crushed by two Wednesday goals in stoppage time.
Nuhiu put daylight between the sides with a superb strike from just inside the area and Forestieri wrapped up the victory with his first goal of the season.
Jos Luhukay: "What an atmosphere over 90 minutes and I think our fans will go back with a very positive feeling. The fans are seeing players who are fighting for each other. My team have a little bit more confidence after this game, I think. There are four or five players who've come back from long-term injuries and it gave me options.
"Preston, for me, are one of the best footballing teams. They are technically very good and play a high tempo. We had a lot of problems to control the game in the first half, but in the second half, Lucas was the key to more offensive actions. Preston didn't give up and came back to 2-1 and it was a very dangerous situation. We have a positive feeling after the win. We have only two days before Monday's game at Sunderland and I must plan for that."
Alex Neil: "I didn't think we played badly. We just defended poorly at crucial parts of the game. Whenever you concede four goals, there's going to be questions asked. Defensively, for some of their goals, we made bad decisions and we didn't defend well enough. In the first half, they struggled to get out of their half. I thought we dominated the game and got in good situations.
"When they brought the big lad (Joao) on at half-time, we really struggled to adapt to that for the first 15 minutes of the second half and it cost us a couple of goals. We had three unbelievable opportunities and I was pleased with the fact that we created so many opportunities, but if you don't put them in the back of the net, it really doesn't matter."