Sheffield Wednesday put in arguably their best performance of the season on Boxing Day, securing a 1-0 away win at automatic promotion hopefuls Newcastle United.
Glenn Loovens’ second-half header ensured the Owls claimed their third Championship win on the spin.
Here are five things Owls writer Dom Howson learned from the televised encounter:
Carlos Carvalhal tactically outwitted Rafa Benitez
The Owls headed to the north east with a game plan and executed it to perfection. Everybody knew their jobs.
Carvalhal instructed his Owls players to press and harry Newcastle into submission. Forwards Fernando Forestieri and Steven Fletcher set the tone, closing down the Magpies backline at regular intervals.
The physical approach paid off, although Wednesday were guilty of giving several fouls away in dangerous positions. Newcastle rarely looked capable of getting in behind Carvalhal’s well-organised back four.
When the Owls won back the ball, they broke at pace and in numbers.
Keiren Westwood’s shot-stopping is second to none
The Republic of Ireland international is a man for the big occasion.
When he was called upon at Newcastle, which wasn’t too often, Westwood bailed out his defence. He produced a superb save in the first half to tip Magpies top-scorer Dwight Gayle’s fierce drive on to the post.
Westwood’s record in Owls colours speaks for itself. Thirty nine clean sheets in 101 matches is truly outstanding.
Sam Hutchinson is in the form of his life
There were 14 Wednesday heroes on the night at a sold-out St James’ Park but the former Chelsea youngster was pick of the bunch, scooping the man of the match award.
Since being moved back into defensive midfield, Hutchinson’s performances and form have been superb. He is one of the first names on the teamsheet and brings balance to the midfield. His combative, aggressive style of play gives the likes of Barry Bannan and Kieran Lee the freedom to push forward.
It is vitally important from Wednesday’s perspective that Hutchinson stays out of the treatment room.
Wednesday look the real deal
Newcastle are thought to have invested to the of £50million in the summer on players but the Owls outplayed them and thoroughly deserved to leave St James’ Park with maximum points. It was a professional, efficient away performance. They looked every inch promotion contenders.
Players who have not consistently hit the heights of last season, including Daniel Pudil, Barry Bannan and Ross Wallace, are starting to show signs of hitting top form.
And the Owls should only get stronger in the second half of the season when their injuries clear up and new signing Callum McManaman will give them a different option in the final third.
The Owls are on the march but can still do better
Carvalhal’s men are one of the form sides in the division, having collected 16 points out of a possible 21 since November 19. Beating Newcastle in their own backyard will only give them more confidence and self belief for the challenges looming on the horizon.
For Wednesday to close the gap on the leaders, Carvalhal’s side have to develop a ruthless streak in front of goal. It was good to see Loovens get on the scoresheet last night but the Owls should have scored more than one goal. If they are not careful, missed chances will come back to haunt them.