AS Jos Luhukay’s first signing when the manager took over at Sheffield Wednesday in January, Joey Pelupessy always knew the pressure would be on.
Not only did the Dutch midfielder have to adapt quickly to life in the Championship – he arrived from the less physical Eredivisie – but the Owls, of course, were 16th in the table and in real danger of relegation.
Granted, three months later, they are still 16th. Crucially, however, after Saturday’s hard-fought derby win at Hull City that threat of demotion has now been removed.
“It was an important win and with eight minutes injury-time, too, so it was a long run,” admitted Pelupessy, whose industry was vital as the visitors battled continually for a first clean sheet in a dozen games.
“But we won and that’s the most important thing. We have 50 points now and we are safe. He (Luhukay) has had a good impact. When he came here it was not an easy situation.
“They were low in the table – this club has to be higher – and had lost a lot of games. They needed points as the relegation battle had started a little bit.
“It’s positive we are safe now with three games to go and that’s a good thing for the manager.
“Hopefully, we can get some good results in the last three. We didn’t play bad in the first half and the second half was just a battle – just a fight really – but before QPR and Fulham we won three games in a row.
“You saw then the way we were playing and I think it is going to be better now.”
Sobering defeats against QPR and Fulham threatened to undo all the Owls’ recent hard work, but Jordan Rhodes’s 18th-minute header was enough to return them to winning ways.
We have 50 points now and we are safe. He (Luhukay) has had a good impact. When he came here it was not an easy situation.Joey Pelupessy
It was the former Huddersfield Town striker’s first goal since Boxing Day and much-needed, not just for Wednesday but on a personal level, too. Rhodes, 28, has struggled for form since his £10m summer move from Middlesbrough, often completely overlooked by Luhukay.
But he earned a rare start here and quickly repaid the manager.
“I didn’t know that,” said Pelupessy about it being the Scotland striker’s first goal of 2018. “You see in training his finishes are great every time. I’m very happy that he’s made a great header. It was a good cross from Jack Hunt and it was a real striker’s goal.”
Full-back Hunt had to depart injured in the second period after sustaining injury to a delicate area.
But Owls managed to reorganise and still deal with Hull as they pushed for that elusive equaliser.
Abel Hernandez, Hull’s most likely hope of a goal, thought he had found it in the ‘92nd’ minute after turning in Harry Wilson’s low cross from the left.
However, as all the home side celebrated, the linesman called over referee Scott Duncan to alert him to the fact Hull substitute Jarrod Bowen actually slid in with the last touch – and he was offside.
Pelupessy, 24, insisted: “I thought it was offside as I saw the linesman not put his flag up, but talking in the microphone. I knew something had happened.
“I wasn’t sure what, but our defenders were running to the sidelines so I was thinking maybe it was offside. And it was.”
Even then Hull still nearly rescued a point when Angus MacDonald’s free header sailed just wide.
Nigel Adkins’s side knew a third successive win for the first time in more than two years would have been enough to preserve their own Championship status.
However, they have slipped to 18th and, mathematically at least, are not yet safe.
Having scored nine goals in their previous two outings they created numerous chances in a free-flowing first half, but could not capitalise.
Former Arsenal midfielder Jon Toral conceded: “Sometimes it was the final ball, sometimes the finishing and sometimes it just didn’t fall for us.
“We showed character, we pressed until the last minute, but it wasn’t meant to be. Now we have to go make sure at Bristol City on Saturday.”
Hull City: McGregor; Aina, Hector, MacDonald, Clark; Larson, Henriksen; Wilson, Toral, Grosicki (Bowen 65); Hernandez. Unused substitutes: Marshall, Irvine, Meyler, Dicko, Dawson, Tomori.
Sheffield Wednesday: Hunt (Palmer 62), Venancio, Lees, Thorniley; Pelupessy, Bannan, Boyd; Forestieri (Matias 81), Reach; Rhodes (Nielsen 86). Unused substitutes: Jones, Dawson, Butterfield, Kirby.
Referee: S Duncan (Newcastle-upon-Tyne).