Sheffield Wednesday produced a sublime away performance at Elland Road on Saturday, with Garry Monk overseeing a 2-0 victory against former side, Leeds United.
Despite an FA Cup win over Brighton and Hove Albion, the Owls’ form heading over to Leeds was patchy, with three consecutive Championship defeats sliding them out of the play-off positions.
However, a resolute defensive performance at Elland Road allowed Monk’s side to strike late, with Jacob Murphy and Atdhe Nuhiu emptying Elland Road within the space of seven minutes.
Monk was obviously delighted with the win over Leeds, who he managed in 2016/17, but more than the result, it was his side’s ‘courage and heart’ that was most pleasing, as he noted in his post-match press conference.
And, on the balance of the second-half, you can’t say Wednesday didn’t deserve their win; the defence stood firm, Barry Bannan won the midfield battle and Nuhiu stepped off the bench to make a telling impact in the final third. Whether Leeds’ fans, players or management would agree, is up for debate, but the points are gone.
Garry Monk’s reaction: “It’s a good win. It was a difficult game.”
Huge credit for his players, felt they played with courage and heart. #SWFC
— AGB (@BurnsAlfie) January 11, 2020
As mentioned, it was Nuhiu who provided Wednesday with that little bit of composure in the closing stages, with his clinical performance from the bench winning the game.
Sam Winnall had fluffed three or four good opportunities to strike during his 69 minutes on the field, but Nuhiu delivered more than what Monk might’ve imagined.
Here, we take a closer look at his performance…
Nuhiu managed 21 minutes, plus additional time, after replacing Winnall in the striking role of Monk’s 4-1-4-1.
Originally, the change, alongside the introduction of Joey Pelupessy and Sam Hutchinson, suggested that Monk was looking to suck the life out of the game and help Wednesday battle their way to a decent point at Elland Road.
However, the switch in tactics gave Wednesday more energy, and provided Kieran Lee a chance to get forward in support of the lone striker.
On 87 minutes, Lee robbed Stuart Dallas of possession, leaving Nuhiu with the ball at his feet in the Leeds half. From there, the Kosovo international slipped Murphy through on goal, with the winger taking advantage of some poor defending and suspect goalkeeping to rifle Wednesday into the lead.
Of course, Leeds would push for an equaliser, but that opened up the field for the Owls on 94 minutes. Bannan found Adam Reach down the left, with the winger making use of acres of space to pick out Nuhiu, who clinically sealed the win for Wednesday with a left-footed finish.
Nuhiu’s goal involvements won Wednesday the match, but other factors of his performance helped Monk’s side on their way.
48% of Nuhiu’s actions were completed successfully, which is an impressive number against a Leeds side that dominate at Elland Road every other week.
The 30-year-old won 33% of his offensive duels and 40% of his aerial contests, with his robust performance in the air also earning him a yellow card for a strong challenge on Leeds skipper, Liam Cooper.
We know that Nuhiu’s physicality causes teams problems and the Leeds defence were rattled by his often clumsy-looking contribution.
However, 75% passing accuracy tells you that Nuhiu’s link-up play was clever, with his interchange with Lee and Murphy on 87 minutes helping to produce the breakthrough moment.
QUIZ: Can you name these 12 rarely-seen Sheffield Wednesday players?
Outings like this is why Nuhiu is a cult-hero on the terraces at Hillsborough, with this impact performance ranking alongside his previous match-winning exploits at Elland Road in April 2018.
A win at Elland Road is always sweet for the Wednesday fans, but the bigger picture is that this success has moved Monk’s men back into the play-off places and stopped a run of negative league results.
They did this by building on an impressive FA Cup triumph, with the task now to do the same in the Championship.