Dave Seddon’s verdict: It’s a Sheffield steal

Greg Cunningham's cross bounces off Sam Hutchinson and into the net to give PNE the lead
Greg Cunningham's cross bounces off Sam Hutchinson and into the net to give PNE the lead
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Forget Sheffield steel, it was a case of Sheffield steal as the three points were snatched out of Preston’s hands in their last action of 2016.

PNE were a kick away from finishing the year with a much deserved victory, a swing of a boot or getting some distance with a header all that was needed to see the game out.

They had led from the 77th minute, Greg Cunningham’s cross deflected into his own by Wednesday midfielder Sam Hutchinson.

It was the advantage they were trying to protect when a disappointing Owls side launched one last attack.

A game of pinball ensued in the PNE box, before Adam Reach put his laces through a shot to send it crashing into the roof of the net.

Reach – it had to be him didn’t it? He spent seven months of last season in a Preston shirt, on loan from Middlesbrough. North End tried to bring him back in the summer and were not too far away from a deal until Wednesday blew them out of the water with a £5m bid – a fee which will rise by another £2m next season.

I don’t want in any way to sound churlish, however £7m in total together with the wage which goes with it, does seem a case of paying over the odds.

As Wednesday returned over the Pennines with their point though, they will argue it was money well spent.

Results like this can make a big difference in the final shake-up. Points eked out when they are not deserved can add up to success.

When the boot is on the other foot, such games must be viewed as a missed chance and this was the case for the Lilywhites on Saturday.

Make no mistake, North End should have won, their performance level well above that of an Owls side which had beaten Newcastle on Boxing Day.

PNE were everything they had not been against Leeds.

Organised from front to back, Preston moved the ball well and took the game in the main to their visitors.

Twice they had the ball in the net – a foul and offside flag ruling those out – before the breakthrough came. After the goal, Aiden McGeady hit the post.

So when the pressure was upped right at the end, they only had the one goal to protect.

If you were to criticise, it would be that inability to turn time with the ball into a second goal.

McGeady was unlucky with his effort against the woodwork. Others, though, were more wasteful when in decent positions. Not necessarily gilt-edged opportunities, but maybe a bit more thought was needed with a pass or management of a situation.

Some in the crowd felt PNE had retreated too deeply when defending at the end, felt also that the late introductions of Tommy Spurr and Alan Browne from the bench had been a tad negative.

You can argue both ways with the substitutions.

Two attacking outlets in Callum Robinson and McGeady were closed off by those late changes.

That said, both were running out of legs, McGeady in particular who was back from injury.

As far as dropping too deep, when the other team throws bodies up the pitch, they have to be tracked.

It is all about fine margins, as I referenced earlier,just one decisive clearance before the ball got to Reach and we would be hailing a job done.

Preston do tend to bounce back well after a poor result, doing so in this case with the display if not quite in terms of the scoreline.

Against Leeds five days earlier, they had been stretched out of shape and lost some key battles.

Having McGeady and Paul Gallagher back had a major bearing.

Gallagher was influential in the first half, coming off the right wing and channelling much of the attacking play.

I felt that in the second half, McGeady took over as the main focal point.

Moved inside from the left to play off the striker, he saw more of the ball and became a big threat.

Some of his footwork was a delight to watch, the pass which played in Cunningham for the goal threaded through a gap with precision accuracy.

With players of McGeady’s ilk, you are not going to get this from them every week.

But when the on-loan man is on song, he is a joy to watch.

For the impact he made in the second half following on from a lively enough first 45 minutes, McGeady was my pick of the bunch.

Cunningham took the sponsors’ award, while Tom Clarke and Paul Huntington could both lay a claim.

On the back of criticism from the Leeds defeat, these two were rock solid this time.

For the first half, they had Steven Fletcher and Atdhe Nuhiu for company. Nuhiu was policed so well that he was withdrawn at half-time as the Owls switched systems.

North End knocked on the door all game, their first sight of goal inside 10 minutes.

They ramped things up in the second half, Alex Baptiste and Gallagher going close, with Simon Makienok and Robinson both having the ball in the net.

The stalemate was broken in the 77th minute, McGeady’s pass playing Cunningham in behind the Owl back line.

He lifted a cross towards the six-yard box, it hit Hutchinson’s chest at the near post and looped in.

Wednesday’s sickeningly late equaliser – with almost four minutes of added-on time played – came after two shots had been blocked.

The ball fell invitingly to Reach, who crashed home a first-time shot from 10 yards, an agonising conclusion to the game and indeed the year.

RATINGS:

Chris Maxwell 7

Little to do in way of shot-stopping until Wednesday’s late salvo. Controlled the box well.

Alex Baptiste 7

Got forward well from right-back and came close to scoring in the second half. Defended solidly.

Tom Clarke 8

Nulified the threat of Nuhiu in the first half and limited the Owls to very little. Timley clearance to deny Fletcher.

Paul Huntington 8

Much improved performance from the Leeds game. Won a lot in the air against the visitors’ two big strikers.

Greg Cunningham 8

The creative force behind PNE’s goal, linking up well with McGeady and putting in the cross which was deflected in.

Paul Gallagher 7

Returned from injury and made an impact, much of the first-half play going through him. Lasted the 90 minutes.

Ben Pearson 7

Usual effective display from Pearson, plenty of energy and kept the ball moving. Got a ninth booking though.

Daniel Johnson 6

Not his best display of late although DJ improved in the second half. Saw plenty of the ball.

Aiden McGeady 8

Grew into the game and Wednesday found him difficult to deal with. Played a big part in the goal, exciting to watch.

Callum Robinson 7

Busy performance, starting up front before moving wide. His end product needed to be better.

Simon Makienok 6

Missed a good chance in the first half when presented with a close-range header. Strong in the air again.

subs used

Jordan Hugill 6

Replaced Makienok after an hour. Did not make the most of a couple of openings later in the game.

Tommy Spurr 5

Little time to make an impact, he came on in the 87th minute to replace Robinson as an extra defensive body.

Alan Browne 5

Came on for McGeady in the 89th minute to run the clock down. Almost blocked Reach’s equaliser.

Subs not used: Marnick Vermijl, Eoin Doyle, Ben Pringle, Anders Lindegaard.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY: Westwood, Palmer (Hunt 62), Loovens, Lees, Pudil, Wallace (Joao 80), Bannan, Hutchinson, Reach, Nuhiu (Jones 46), Fletcher. Subs (not used): Sougou, Sasso, Hirst, Wildsmith.

REFEREE:

Andy Woolmer 6

ATTENDANCE:

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