An early header from Fernando Forestieri and a second half penalty from Steven Fletcher gave ten man Sheffield Wednesday a 2-1 win over nine man North End at Hillsborough.
Eoin Doyle pulled a goal back for the yellows, but he and Jermaine Beckford saw red in the closing stages after Forestieri had earlier also been sent off by referee Scott Duncan, for an altercation with Ben Pearson.
The Owls’ in form front man opened the scoring just nine minutes in; heading home from close range after a Ross Wallace ball from the right hand side wasn’t cleared far enough by the PNE defence.
After the break substitute Fletcher then converted from the spot following Chris Maxwell’s foul on Will Buckley. Doyle fired home with his first touch after coming on in the closing stages, when fellow sub Marnick Vermijl’s shot fell into his path just inside the penalty area.
But in the closing stages, with North End pushing for the minimum of a point, the Irishman and Beckford clashed and were both shown straight red cards.
The goal was Forestieri’s third chance of the game, as in the opening minute he could only find the hands of Maxwell when a direct ball over the top sent him through, before Alex Baptiste cleared off the line from the No.45 after a cross from former PNE winger Wallace.
But that incident was a preview of the goal, the chance coming 30 seconds before the ball was actually in the net. An initial corner was cleared, but eventually worked back out to the Scot, who crossed into the six yard box. The ball was punched away, but only to the forward, who headed it back over the goalkeeper and a defender on the line to find the top right hand corner on nine minutes.
The goal was the home side’s last real chance of the first half and North End were almost back level only 12 minutes in, when Greg Cunningham drove in from the left, before being unceremoniously upended by Sam Hutchinson, but the referee allowed play to go on and Callum Robinson collected the ball, took a stride and unleashed a 30 yard drive that beat Owls’ stopper Kieren Westwood, but came back off the left hand post and went behind.
It was North End who were dictating play in the rest of the opening half. A brace of corners on the quarter hour mark saw Alan Browne head against the back of defender Tom Lees from Aiden McGeady’s corner and then Tom Clarke headed over from Daniel Johnson’s cross as opportunities continued to come at regular intervals.
Just before the break – which saw five minutes of stoppage time due to Wallace and home skipper Glenn Loovens being substituted due to injuries - Alan Browne had a chance from edge of the box. PNE captain Tom Clarke headed down Cunningham’s long free kick forward for the No.8 to meet with a half volley on the edge of the box, but his effort was straight into the ground and Westwood claimed.
Two minutes into the added on time Aiden McGeady showed great feet to turn right back Jack Hunt inside out and brought a superb save from Westwood from the left corner of the six yard box, the former Sunderland custodian keeping Carlos Carvalhal’s side in front at the interval.
Manager Simon Grayson made two changes at the break with Browne and McGeady, who had looked like he was carrying an injury in the closing stages of the first half, were replaced by Vermijl and the returning Beckford, back after three weeks out with a thigh strain.
With the team now operating a 4-4-2, the visitors were on the front foot and their chances were improved on 65 minutes when Ben Pearson was confronted off the ball by Forestieri and the Wednesday striker was given a straight red card by Duncan after the intervention of one of his assistants.
However, with 13 minutes to go their chances were dealt a blow with another controversial moment that saw Chris Maxwell adjudged to have fouled Owls winger Will Buckley and a penalty was awarded to the home side. Steven Flecther, who had just come on, fired the ball into the bottom right hand corner to double the lead for the Owls, sending Maxwell the wrong way.
Doyle was then introduced, with Alex Baptiste sacrificed, and with his first touch the No.13 pulled North End back into the game. Former Owl Vermijl marched forward and unleashed a hard low shot, but the ball ricocheted into the path of Doyle, who fired home into the top left hand corner, giving Westwood no chance.
The home side were down to nine men at this stage with Buckley, still off the field with a shoulder injury suffered in the incident that led to the penalty.
But with PNE pushing hard to use their man advantage, in the final minute of normal time, a bizarre incident saw Beckford and Doyle both red carded for a confrontation that followed another chance for the team, where Vermijl had fired just over the bar from Doyle’s pass.
Five minutes of stoppage time was added and despite now having nine men, North End kept coming forward and had a chance to get a point, when Cunningham crossed from the left to the back post, but Jordan Hugill couldn’t keep his header down under pressure from a Wednesday defender and the Hillsborough crowd were able to breathe a sigh of relief as they held on for the points.
Sheffield Wednesday line-up: Westwood, Lee, Reach, Loovens (c) (Jones, 35), Lees, Joao (Fletcher, 74), Hutchinson, Hunt, Wallace (Buckley, 27), Bannan, Forestieri. Subs not used: Dawson, Palmer, Pudil, Nuhiu.
PNE line-up: Maxwell, Baptiste (Doyle, 81), Cunningham, Pearson, Clarke (c), Wright, Browne (Beckford, 46), Johnson, Robinson, Hugill, McGeady (Vermijl, 46). Subs not used: Lindegaard, Makienok, Pringle, Huntington.
Attendance: 24,843 (801 PNE fans)
Referee: Mr S Duncan