Sheffield Wednesday's brilliant return to form: Nottingham Forest 0 Owls 3
Wobble? What wobble?
In terms of answering critics and doubters, Sheffield Wednesday could not have provided a more emphatic response than the manner in which they beat Nottingham Forest on Saturday.
Not only did they grab the victory they needed to remain in the top six after their cushion has been worn away, they did so with a magnificent performance that eased fears they had lost the stomach for a sustained play-off push.
This was the Owls at their most fluid, most threatening and most composed. They were dominant and had Forest chasing shadows at times.
The win ended a run of five games without a victory and three matches without a goal.
And it could hardly have been a more comfortable afternoon.
Barring a 10-minute spell at the start of the second half - by which time they were already a goal up - Wednesday were dominant with the ball.
This was a fact highlighted by a two-minute spell of unbroken possession in the second half featuring dozens and dozens of passes to a chorus of olés from their 1,800-strong support.
Key to undoing Forest was exploiting the space between their two banks of midfielders, forcing their holding players to drop deeper before picking holes in the defence.
And, with smart possession play and the intricate short passing, the Owls did that.
Wide players were also brought into the game incredibly well, particularly Aiden McGeady on the left and Liam Palmer on the right.
McGeady’s contribution could have been the biggest positive on an afternoon where there were plenty.
The Everton loanee has struggled since arriving at Hillsborough, looking short of fitness and confidence.
Perhaps stirred by his omission from last Tuesday’s trip to Brighton, McGeady finally saw things click into place in Wednesday colours.
He was a real attacking threat but also worked incredibly hard, contributing defensively, and was fully deserving of his first goal for the club and of the season as a whole.
The identity of all three goalscorers for the Owls was a major plus.
Gary Hooper’s strike was his first for six matches, raising hopes he will begin another strong run at the ideal time.
And substitute Marco Matias rounded things off with his first goal since late August after a tough spell of injuries.
Saturday also saw the return of Fernando Forestieri following his suspension. His reintroduction came as one of four changes with McGeady, Daniel Pudil and Ross Wallace also coming back in.
Forestieri’s individual quality will always be the most highlighted aspect of his game and he undoubtedly is Wednesday’s primary attacking threat.
But Saturday’s match laid bare his contribution to the team as a whole and showed what was missing from performances during his absence.
Forestieri’s presence allows Hooper to remain higher up the pitch, staying in and around the box without the pressure to drop deep and help build attacks.
The solitary black mark of the day came with the dismissal of Barry Bannan for a hefty challenge on full-back Eric Lichaj, meaning a three-match ban which will keep him out until the April 9 trip to Bristol City.
Debate will rage, primarily because Bannan did take the ball before the man.
But a player will always give the referee an opportunity to make a decision when he leaps into a challenge with his studs showing. It is dangerous play after all.
It is difficult to be too down on the Bannan incident when it is taken in the overall context of a brilliant Wednesday performance.
But for Forest keeper Dorus De Vries, Wednesday could have been out of sight by half time.
He denied Forestieri twice early on when the forward smashed a McGeady lay-off first time and also struck the rebound. And De Vries tipped over a wonderful McGeady strike from distance.
Forest,meanwhile, were restricted to efforts from outside the box, none of which troubled Keiren Westwood.
Wednesday took a deserved lead on the half-hour. Bannan flicked a pass into the box which bamboozled Lichaj and allowed McGeady in to drill past De Vries from 15 yards.
McGeady, Pudil and Bannan in particular all had chances to double the Owls’ advantage before the break.
And Forest had their best chance on the stroke at half time when Jorge Grant headed a Ben Osborn cross straight at Westwood from point-blank range.
There was a slight concern Wednesday’s one -goal advantage may not be enough as Forest started the second half really well.
The hosts had by far their best period of possession and succeeded in pushing Wednesday onto the back foot.
The Owls have been caught at various points this season dropping too deep when already in front and they were doing so again under pressure.
But, for all their possession, Forest lacked real threat and it did not feel as though they would grab an equaliser.
Wednesday held firm and showed great composure, still looking to play out from the back when they regained possession.
And they grabbed their second goal at an ideal time to effectively end the hopes of a comeback from a home side clearly struggling.
Centre-half Matt Mills daudled on the ball, allowing Forestieri to rob possession before skipping forward and playing a well-weighted pass for Hooper to slot in at De Vries’ near post.
Other than a smashed shot from Chris Cohen which forced Westwood into a save, Forest were dead and buried in the game.
Even after Bannan’s dismissal with 14 minutes to go, they struggled to mount anything meaningful in attack.
And Wednesday capped things off five minutes from time through Matias. Fellow sub Atdhe Nuhiu won a superb flick-on, allowing Matias to scamper into the box and drill a shot into the far corner.
Game over. And the real game begins again for Wednesday.
Forest: De Vries 7, Lichaj 5, Mills 5, Mancienne 6, Cohen 6 (Walker 82), Gardner 5 (Tesche 66, 6), Vaughan 6, Mendes 6, Grant 6 (Burke 56, 6), Osborn 7, O’Grady 6. Subs not used: Jokic, WIlson, Evtimov, McDonagh
Wednesday: Westwood 7, Palmer 8, Lees 8, Loovens 7, Pudil 6, McGeady 8 (Matias 73), Lee 9, Bannan 6, Wallace 6 (Lopez 67, 7), Forestieri 8, Hooper 7 (Nuhiu 79). Subs not used: Price, Turner, Hunt, Joao.
Referee: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire).
Attendance: 20,690 (1,841).