CARLOS CARVALHAL hailed the impact of Fernando Forestieri after the Sheffield Wednesday talisman kept the club firmly on track for the play-offs with a goalscoring return.
The Argentinian, making his first appearance in more than a month due to a knee injury, came off the bench to net a dramatic late winner against Cardiff City and ensure the Owls kept Fulham at bay in the race for the top six.
With the Londoners triumphing 3-1 at Fulham, Wednesday were set to drop a place to seventh until Forestieri struck with his 12th goal of the season.
“Fernando was out for a long time but he came on and affected the game,” said the Portuguese head coach on a Good Friday that saw Huddersfield Town beat Preston North End and Leeds United draw 1-1 at Newcastle United.
“Fernando had not played in a long so even when he came back and trained well, you do not know (how he will play).
“It is like you receive a gift, a box, and you don’t know what will be inside. Only when you open the box, you know.
“But his reaction was very positive and he gave a good performance. He scored the goal.
“He is a player who in defensive parts of the game is very fast to recover his position. That was important. We are happy because he is a fantastic player.”
Forestieri’s late headed goal after a rasping shot from Jordan Rhodes had been kept out by Hull City loanee Allan McGregor ensured any lingering anger felt by Wednesday at Junior Hoilett escaping a red card for pushing Daniel Pudil to the floor three minutes before half-time had eased.
Referee David Coote adjudged the offence to be worthy of only a yellow and not red card to the fury of Carvalhal and the home fans.
Asked about the incident post-match, the Owls chief preferred not to comment. Cardiff manager Neil Warnock, however, was not so reticent and he felt both players had been at fault.
“Pudil didn’t have to do that,” said the Bluebirds chief. “He is better than that. You shouldn’t mess about like he did.
“Junior shouldn’t have done that, either. But I thought that was the only life in the first half, if I am honest. I felt they (Wednesday) were fortunate to win what was a very even game.”
Yesterday’s victory was the Owls’ third in a row to suggest momentum is building as the end of the season approaches.
Carvalhal added: “We played against a team with a coach who knows everything about the competition. A very difficult team to play against, as they prepare for corners, free-kicks and throw-ins.
“The game was too broken. We knew this would happen because we were up against a team who play a physical game.
“Our players were cool, waiting for the moment to score. We scored one goal and won. That was an important victory.
“It was a fantastic performance against Newcastle but this was a fantastic victory against Cardiff. This was the important thing, it showed that we are learning.
“Warnock is experienced and knows very well the city and the club. He knew if it stayed at nil or Cardiff scored that the crowd would be more nervous.
“But our fans were amazing and everyone understood we had to be patient. Everyone is happy. If you had asked me before the game if it would be fantastic with quality football, I would have said ‘no’. The important thing is being efficient in this.”
Wednesday’s joy at snatching a late winner was mirrored by Huddersfield Town, who left it even later to beat Preston North End 3-2.
Collin Quaner settled an entertaining contest in the Terriers’ favour with a 96th minute strike to leave head coach David Wagner elated..
“It was a great performance from the lads,” said the German. “They played until the final second and it was high energetic.
“We did a lot of things right but they score twice and then we have mountains to climb, but we climbed them. The players have always shown me they will perform, even after setbacks. We looked fresh and energetic and, thankfully, it was a happy end for us.
“The story of the game may mean that it looks lucky.
“But I think it was totally deserved.”
Asked about Town’s prospects in the run-in, Wagner replied: “For me, I have never looked at the top two, just at us.
“It has been a great effort so far and there are five games left in front of us now, so we must focus on them.”
Leeds were once again thankful to Chris Wood after he struck deep into injury time to slow Newcastle’s promotion drive.
Wood stabbed home his 25th goal of the Championship season five minutes into stoppage time to snatch a 1-1 draw just as it looked as though Jamaal Lascelles’ 67th-minute header had taken the Magpies to the brink of an instant promotion back to the Premier League.
Newcastle are now four points adrift of leaders Brighton,