THE DARK nights are coming and Sheffield Wednesday manager Garry Monk is entitled to smile again.
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A difficult summer saw him sacked by Birmingham City in mid-June and deny any wrongdoing following allegations made against him and his agent James Featherstone.
After time with the family, Monk was soon itching to get back to football, all he has known since being a teenager, long before the end of the summer holidays.
Back in the day job and quickly back to the business end of the Championship, which he occupied in his time revitalising another Yorkshire giant in Leeds United in 2016-17, Monk is now threatening to do it again at Wednesday.
Last night’s game was no thing of beauty; far from it with it being wholly fitting that a scruffy spectacle was settled by an error.
It came from former Barnsley defender Liam Lindsay, whose poor 43rd-minute clearance let in Massimo Luongo, who raced clear to score his second decisive goal in successive home matches to ensure another 1-0 win at Hillsborough.
Far from at their best maybe, but Wednesday’s ability to get the job done and avoid mistakes and keep the back door shut was again impressive, with Julian Borner and his defensive cohorts seeing them home to another precious victory.
That was borne out in seven minutes of stoppage time in a second half when the hosts were not to be moved as they moved up to third place in the Championship.
In the job for just a month-and-a-half, Monk, a former centre-half of some repute, has quickly installed steel and organisation in this regimented Owls unit, whose game management is strong.
Wearing striped shirts which were barely distinguishable from each other from a distance, both sides displayed a uniform lack of coherence in a sterile half of football which was pockmarked by looseness in possession, poor decision-making and a super-slow tempo.
Fortunately, there was a saving grace for Wednesday following substitute Lindsay’s benevolence prior to the interval with the defender guilty of failing to clear with his right foot when the ball was flicked on towards Stoke’s right defensive channel by Steven Fletcher.
Luongo was not one to pass up gifts and he could have scarcely believed his luck after being allowed an unhindered run towards goal and he duly produced a textbook low finish past the exposed Adam Federici.
It baled out Wednesday after a lame half which was well below the standards of the performance they prodiced in the 1-1 draw at Cardiff.
The hosts contrived a couple of semi-dangerous moments with Kadeem Harris firing over from close in under pressure and Federici blocking a shot at his near post from Adam Reach after a trademark slaloming run from the Owls midfielder.
But other than that, it was turgid, forgettable stuff, although the introduction of former Sheffield United midfielder Mark Duffy did provoke some animation from Wednesdayites, who were quick to remind him of his former status.
Forced into two changes due to injury, Stoke plainly lacked ambition and penetration going forward, but given their lowly status, they would have made no apologies for being primarily concerned with substance and not style.
Until Lindsay’s aberration, it was a defensive job well enough done in that regard, but that moment saw the game plan shredded.
Unfortunately, for the watching spectator, the lack of flow before the interval continued on the resumption, not helped by several injury stoppages, one of which saw goalscorer Luongo forced off due to a knock.
Just earlier, Reach had headed wide, with he and former Owls loanee Danny Batth soon receiving attention to sum up an eminently stop-start contest.
A rare flashpoint did arrive when Stoke saw appeals for a penalty rebuffed when Joe Allen went down following close attention from Barry Bannan with referee Andrew Madley having a word with Bruno Martins Indi, not involved in the game and part of a Stoke bench who were incensed with the non-award.
The visitors’ mood did not improve when they missed their one gilt-edged chance to level soon after.
Duffy’s cross found the unmarked Lee Gregory, only for the Sheffielder’s header to be denied by a splendid reaction save by Cameron Dawson.
It was a warning to Wednesday, whose failure to confirm the points with a second goal left them exposed to such a sucker-punch.
A rising shot from Harris, which was turned over by Federici, went close to setting up a regulation final 20 minutes, but not close enough.
An immaculate sliding tackle from Dominic Iorfa, who had earlier made an important block to thwart Badou Ndiaye, summed up the Owls’ resolution to hang onto the spoils to keep the pressure on West Brom and Leeds.
Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson; Palmer, Iorfa, Borner, Fox; Hutchinson, Luongo (Lee 54), Bannan; Reach, Fletcher (Nuhiu 81), Harris (Forestieri 74). Unused substitutes: Jones, Pelupessy, Winnall, Odubajo.
Stoke City: Federici; Edwards, Carter-Vickers (Lindsay 27), Batth, Ward; Etebo (Duffy 21), Ndiaye, Allen, Clucas; Gregory, Campbell (Hogan 69). Unused substitutes: Butland, McClean, Vokes, Ince.
Referee: A Madley (West Yorkshire).