Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 Preston: Michael Hector earns welcome win for Owls
Ben Pearson's red card leaves Preston with 10 men in defeat at Hillsborough
Last Updated: 22/12/18 7:19pm
Michael Hector was the match-winner as Sheffield Wednesday claimed a 1-0 win against 10-man Preston as Steve Bruce's coaching team watched on at Hillsborough.
Bruce has been heavily linked with the manager's vacancy following the sacking on Friday of Jos Luhukay after less than a year in charge.
Bruce, who started his managerial career across the city at Sheffield United, appears set to return to the game after being sacked by Aston Villa in October with Steve Agnew, Bruce's assistant, and coach Stephen Clemence in the crowd.
On the pitch, Hector, on loan from Chelsea, glanced in a cross from man-of-the-match Adam Reach after 62 minutes as the Owls claimed three vital points.
Preston played for all but 26 minutes of the match with 10 men following a straight red card for Ben Pearson, the midfielder playing the ball but following through on Marco Matias with both feet high.
Victory was greeted with immense relief at Hillsborough a day after Luhukay's departure which came two days after chairman Dejphon Chansiri had told a fans' forum he would not be axing the Dutchman.
Luhukay had been the subject of fierce criticism from Owls fans after a run of five points from a possible 30 left them hovering five points above the drop zone and in danger of being sucked into a relegation scrap.
There was an immediate change with goalkeeper Keiren Westwood, frozen out under Luhukay, returning for his first appearance in more than a year.
Westwood's first touch as he gathered Lukas Nmecha's low drive was greeted with cheers as the doom and gloom that had surrounded Hillsborough in recent months lifted.
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There was nothing of note from either team in the opening exchanges with both guilty of some sloppy, broken play.
Westwood got to a through-ball just ahead of Nmecha but little had happened before Pearson's lunge on Matias handed Wednesday a man advantage.
The first goal action came after 34 minutes when Steven Fletcher's looping header from Reach's cross was clawed away by Preston 'keeper Declan Rudd.
The Owls came within inches of taking the lead three minutes before the break when Lucas Joao's firm header beat the outstretched arm of Rudd only for the ball to hit the post, Reach again the provider.
The hosts were on top but could not breach the stubborn Preston defence and half-time arrived with the score goalless.
It was going to be a long second half for Preston being a man down although the Owls were not creating any clear-cut chances.
Reach shot wide as Wednesday kicked towards the Kop but the biggest cheer of the second half so far was for the yellow card awarded to Rudd for time-wasting.
The Lilywhites were on the back foot and when they did get themselves into an attacking position from a free-kick they were caught offside.
Rudd then produced a fine save to block Matias' low, close-range drive before the Owls scored from the resulting corner.
That rocked the visitors into attacking and Tom Barkhuizen had a free header in front of goal only to sky the ball over the bar.
Rudd beat away Fletcher's low drive and although Preston battled hard they could not find a way through the Owls defence.
Sheffield Wednesday caretaker manager Lee Bullen: "Whether or not it happens at this level I think you can only point at Steve Bruce or our good friend at Cardiff (Neil Warnock) that have just have an unbelievable record of success at this level.
"Steve will be hurting with the way things went at Aston Villa, absolutely, but if you get the opportunity to speak to someone like that - a British coach that knows the Championship inside out then you don't knock back the opportunity to speak to him. Whether anything comes of it I don't know."
Alex Neil: "Having watched it back on a few occasions [Pearson's red card] certainly merits an appeal. I thought it was very quick for the red card to come out, I'm not convinced there was any malice in it
"The lad pops up and plays for the rest of the game so I think that shows you how bad a tackle it was."