Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Preston North End
Gary Madine scored twice as Sheffield Wednesday recorded their fifth win in six games over struggling Preston on Saturday at Hillsborough.
After a frustrating first half for the Owls, Madine broke the deadlock in the 49th minute and doubled his tally and Wednesday’s lead 15 minutes later.
The result did briefly move Wednesday above rivals Sheffield United, but the Blades’ win at Hartlepool later on Saturday afternoon saw them regain second spot in League One.
Preston, meanwhile, dropped to 16th place and are now just six points clear of the drop zone in what has been a disappointing season for the Lilywhites.
Manager Graham Westley later told the media that he had information that four of his players had “leaked” his team selection to the opposition on Friday afternoon.
That selection was a very defensive-looking line-up, with five centre backs in the vistors’ starting eleven.
The aim was no doubt to stifle the home side and they did just that in the first half. Wednesday’s only opportunities in the first period were half chances.
The first of these fell to Jermaine Johnson who curled a shot just over the bar from Michail Antonio’s low cross.
Reda Johnson was the next to go close for Wednesday, audaciously trying to chip Preston ‘keeper Thorsten Stuckmann from a free kick on the halfway line, but the ball sailed just over with Stuckmann scrambling back.
Wednesday’s best move of the half came when Nile Ranger charged forward, playing in Antonio down the right, whose centre was cleared behind by Chris Robertson with Madine lurking.
At the other end, Preston mustered up very little. Two headers from defender-cum-striker Aaron Brown bounced harmlessly wide, while Paul Parry’s drive was blocked by Lines after a clever free-kick routine.
Wednesday manager Dave Jones bemoaned the tempo of his side’s play in the first half and there was a noticeable difference after the break.
Just four minutes into the second half, Wednesday won the ball on the halfway line and Chris Lines strode forward, laying the ball off to Madine who turned and fired a first time shot into the top right-hand corner from 18 yards.
It was now an uphill task for North End who had created very little going forward. Westley replaced his ineffective front pairing of Brown and Graham Cummins with Iain Hume and Chucks Aneke but just two minutes later, their task became even harder.
Antonio launched a long throw into the Preston area, which was met powerfully by the head of Madine for his 17th goal of the season.
Madine then had two chances to complete his hat-trick. First, he shot over after Ranger had flicked on a long ball.
Then, the impressive Antonio, who gave Preston youngster Bailey Wright a torrid afternoon, beat his man again down the right and crossed for Madine who headed over.
The goalscorer was replaced by Ryan Lowe on 86 minutes to a deserved standing ovation by the Hillsborough faithful.
Preston conjured up next to nothing in the second half and it was a comfortable victory in the end for Wednesday. It is for certain, however, that the Owls will face tougher tests in the remaining six games of the season.