A brace of penalties from Daniel Johnson made it three consecutive home wins for Preston North End as they withstood a late barrage to beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 at Deepdale.
Moses Odubajo was twice punished for brining down Sean Maguire in the penalty area and on both occasions the PNE No.11 put the ball into the bottom right hand corner of Keiren Westwood’s goal.
The Owls right back was caught the wrong side of North End’s Irish international forward just after the half hour mark, with match official Robert Jones able to make an easy decision and point to the spot, Johnson converting and then on 65 minutes Maguire collected from Alan Browne’s lay off before the full back slashed his legs from under him and again the spot kick was converted.
Substitute Adam Reach crossed for Steven Fletcher to head home with 12 minutes to go to set up a tense finale, but an excellent rear guard display saw the home side hold on and take another big three points to move them up to sixth in the table.
Alex Neil had made four changes to the side that defeated Stoke City less than 72 hours before, Tom Clarke missing out through injury, replaced by Darnell Fisher, and Jayden Stockley, Browne – who skippered the side – and Maguire also coming in for Harrop, Gallagher and Barkhuizen.
The first half an hour was cagey, with North End dominating possession, without testing Westwood and it was actually Declan Rudd who was needed first, coming out to smother at the feet of Scottish forward Fletcher after Kadeem Harris’ pacey run down the left-hand side.
But the deadlock was broken by PNE. A long ball from Rudd – aimed at Stockley – evaded everyone and Maguire got in behind Odubajo in the left side of the penalty area. The former Brentford man had two goes at the heels of the North End No.24 and the second one sent the forward to the grass and referee Jones had no hesitation in pointing straight to the spot.
Johnson eventually was able to step up and although Irish international Westwood went the right way, his late hand to the ball was only able to direct it inside the right-hand side netting giving the Lilywhites a deserved lead.
Almost the same combinations almost brought a second four minutes before the interval. Another long ball was this time flicked on nicely by Stockley and Maguire collected it and stood up a left-wing cross to the back post where centre half Julian Bӧrner slid in and put the ball against the outside of the right-hand post for a corner.
Whilst they would later get a second penalty, there could have been another in the final minute of the first half. A cross from the left by Billy Bodin struck Barry Bannan on the arm and, in the age of VAR, if the game had been played in the Premier League, there is no doubt a penalty would have been given, however, the match officials could not be called into question here, as it could have been impossible to see from their angles and nothing was forthcoming.
Tom Barkhuizen came on for Bodin just before the hour mark and almost had an immediate impact. He was sent through on goal by Fisher and did superbly to race into space on the right, before getting into the penalty area and firing goalwards, but the Wednesday No.1 did superbly, spreading his body, and making a fine save to concede a corner.
But Westwood was unable to do anything to prevent the second – and matchwinning – goal. A Joe Rafferty throw in down the left found Browne on the left side of the penalty area and the skipper held the ball and laid it off perfectly for Maguire to race into the box, only for a rash challenge from Odubajo to take his legs from under him, once again making Jones’ decision a very easy one.
This time at the Alan Kelly Town End, but it didn’t change DJ’s approach, as he fired left-footed into the same corner as his first penalty, this time the ’keeper going the wrong way, converting for his fourth goal of the season, to take him to the top of the Championship goalscoring lists.
And the No.11 was inches away from a hat-trick on 70 minutes. Browne was brought down 25 yards out – to the right of the penalty area – by Sam Hutchinson and the midfielder stepped up and curled a shot over the wall, but it just didn’t come down enough, hitting the corner of post and bar and going over.
The Lilywhites lost Patrick Bauer to injury just after the hour mark and the visitors looked to capitalise on it by going with three out and out strikers. Fernando Forestieri had come on at half-time and former PNE loanee Reach – who played down the left – were joined by powerful striker Atdhe Nuhiu and they grabbed a goal back with 12 minutes to go.
Reach got some pace to drive down the left and delivered a pinpoint cross to the penalty area, to wear Fletcher had timed his run perfectly, heading downwards, and into the net, despite Rudd getting a foot too it.
The closing stages were tension filled, with the Owls throwing everything at PNE and the North End boss having to put Stockley into the middle of a back three to help out. But despite five minutes of stoppage time and plenty of long balls, free kicks and throw ins, the kitchen sink could not break down the home side’s barricades and the game finished 2-1.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Fisher, Rafferty, Pearson, Bauer (Storey, 62), Davies, Bodin (Barkhuizen, 58), Browne (c), Stockley, Johnson (Gallagher, 85), Maguire. Subs not used: Ripley, Harrop, Green, Potts.
Sheffield Wednesday line-up: Westwood, Fox, Lee (Nuhiu, 72), Harris, Fletcher, Bannan, Borner, Murphy (Forestieri, 46), Lees (c), Odubajo (Reach, 66), Hutchinson. Subs not used: Dawson, Rhodes, Luongo, Iorfa.
Attendance: 15,715 (4,536 Sheffield Wednesday fans)
Referee: Mr R Jones