Festive cheer was apparently in short supply when Grant McCann arrived at Hillsborough yesterday, but it will have only added to the sweetness of an important Hull City victory.
The New Year began with a Yorkshire derby between two sides with genuine play-off pretensions, capable of beating the Championship’s best, but not of the consistency which could take them into the Premier League automatically.
On the pitch it was all very subdued, the sort of flat start many non-professional footballers make to a new year. It seemed the spice was reserved for before the match, when the Sheffield Wednesday stewards apparently told McCann he had to park a ten-minute walk from the ground.
The plug sockets in the away dressing room were not working, and the stewards, McCann said, were out of Christmas spirit. If it made the 1-0 win Jarrod Bowen’s second-half goal secured a touch sweeter, the greater satisfaction came from Hull starting 2020 the way they ended 2019 – with a victory.
Only once before this season have they been able to follow one win with another, in late October/early November. For Sheffield Wednesday, it was a third straight defeat.
The Owls went into Christmas third in the Championship and on the crest of a wave. They end it a point outside the play-off places, only above the Tigers on goal difference.
Over the years. Wednesday have spent a lot of money to bring goalscorers with Premier League experience to South Yorkshire. But while second-half substitutes Steven Fletcher and Jordan Rhodes fell marginally short of finding the net, a player Hull have developed showed the killer touch.
Signed from Hereford United in 2014, Bowen’s next stop will surely be England’s top division.
The Tigers will just hope to keep hold of him in this month’s transfer window so they can see just what they are capable of with him on board, and hopefully a bit of hired help.
Bowen’s neat 61st-minute finish from George Honeyman’s run down the left and cross was a rare moment of quality, and the decisive one.
The Owls had carried the greater first-half threat, Kadeem Harris producing crosses Barry Bannan, Sam Winnall and Adam Reach put wide, and kept out himself by a brilliant bit of defending by Matthew Pennington, making only his second Championship start this season and doing so at right-back rather than his preferred centre-back position as McCann tried to make light of losing two left-sided defenders to hamstring injuries over Christmas.
Pennington had been less impressive in attack, surprised when Kamil Grosicki’s 13th-minute corner found him unmarked at the far post and flopping onto it, chesting the ball wide.
Fletcher’s half-time introduction after three matches out through illness instantly gave the hosts more cutting edge, and he hit the post at a scrambled 50th-minute corner.
He was also wide with a free-kick, grazed a Jacob Murphy cross off target and he and Rhodes just failed to stretch to a ball whipped in low by the winger.
By then, though, Hull had taken the lead, and Grosicki nearly doubled it minutes later, firing a Jackson Irvine pass over.
With Monk bringing on his third attacking substitute as soon as the shot went into the stands, the Tigers might have been bracing themselves to have the kitchen sink hurled their way, but instead McCann was able to speak admiringly about the “control” they exerted over the game.
“We didn’t get rushed, we didn’t get fazed,” he said.
“We came into this game with ten injuries so we’re asking the same players to go and go again and they keep delivering.
“I thought it was a good goal. I was really pleased because we thought it might be their Achilles heel.
“We knew cutbacks from those sort of areas would give us a chance to score.
“I was pleased for George Honeyman.
“It was a great bit of skill from him and a tremendous ball across and who else but Jarrod Bowen would be in that area to finish it off for him.”
Hull looked like a team on the up, Wednesday on the slide, but even by the standards of this schizophrenic division, neither club gets stuck in a pattern, good or bad.
Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson; Iorfa, Borner, Lees, Fox; Reach (Murphy 64), Hutchinson, Bannan, Harris; Winnall, Nuhiu (Fletcher 46). Unused substitutes: Lee, Rhodes, Pelupessy, Odubajo.
Hull City: Long; Pennington, Burke, De Wijs, Lichaj; Batty, Irvine; Bowen, Honeyman (Lopes 72), Grosicki; Eaves. Unused substitutes: Tafazolli, McKenzie, Bowler, Ingram, Fleming, Lewis-Potter.
Referee: J Simpson (Lancashire).