Preston’s magnificent six-game winning streak at the start of the season may now be a distant memory, but the Deepdale outfit proved on Boxing Day that they are still capable of going toe-to-toe with the big hitters of the division, having emerged triumphant in a second half of chaos against Leeds on December 26.
Four minutes after Illan Meslier was banished for a foolish hand into the face of Milutin Osmajic, Alan Browne headed home the game’s opening goal, but a confident Pascal Struijk penalty would ostensibly see 10-man Leeds travel back to base with a slice of the spoils.
However, Liam Millar had other ideas, cutting inside from the left and picking out the top corner with a sumptuous 89th-minute strike, which propelled Lowe’s side to just their fourth victory from their last 17 Championship matches and ended their disheartening three-game losing home sequence.
Such is the extremely tight nature of the Championship standings that only one point separates ninth-placed Preston from the playoff spots, but just one defeat could demote Lowe’s men to as low as 14th, rendering every point crucial at this stage of proceedings.
Success over Leeds may have enhanced Preston’s playoff credentials, but Struijk’s spot kick means that the hosts are still searching for their first home clean sheet of the new term, and not since a 2-0 beating of Cardiff City in March have they kept the opposition at bay at Deepdale.
Speaking of teams being kept at arm’s length, Sheffield Wednesday’s attacking punch was nullified when they butted heads with last season’s losing playoff finalists Coventry City, as everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Danny Rohl’s charges.
Two goals either side of the break from Tatsuhiro Sakamoto did the damage on a day where Sheffield Wednesday also lost Callum Paterson to injury and Bambo Diaby to a late red card for a fracas with Liam Kitching, who was also made to take the walk of shame for his role in the incident.
The Owls would do well to banish thoughts of Boxing Day’s defeat from their minds as they seek to move forward in the fight against demotion – a marathon battle which they are currently coming out on the wrong end of, occupying 23rd place with a nine-point chasm to safety.
Ever since bouncing back up to the second tier in the summer, Sheffield Wednesday have become associated with abysmal performances on the road, losing eight of their last nine contests away from Hillsborough and scoring just six times on rival turf thus far; only Rotherham United possess an equally poor attacking return.
In addition, four of Sheffield Wednesday’s last five battles with Preston have ended in defeat – including a 1-0 reverse at Hillsborough this summer – and only one of the Owls’ last 23 league games away to Friday’s hosts has seen the visitors come out on top