Sheffield Wednesday boost play-off bid as Newcastle suffer rare away loss
Sheffield Wednesday kept ahead in the race for the Sky Bet Championship play-offs by inflicting a rare away defeat on Newcastle as they won 2-1 at Hillsborough.
The Owls, who were dislodged from the top six by a Fulham win earlier in the day, regained their position as second-half headers from Tom Lees and Steven Fletcher earned a first league double over the Magpies since 1986-87.
This was a first loss on the road since January 2 for Rafael Benitez's men, though they made a game of it in the final few minutes with a deserved goal for Jonjo Shelvey.
But the loss saw them miss the chance to not only return to the top of the league, but also put themselves potentially one win away from an instant return to the Premier League.
Wednesday produced their best performance of the season in the reverse fixture at St James' Park on Boxing Day and they started this one similarly impressively, forging three golden chances in the opening 20 minutes.
The first fell to Gary Hooper with just two minutes on the clock when Paul Dummett's poor clearance went straight to him, but from just eight yards out his shot crashed into the crossbar and to safety.
Newcastle's let-off was even bigger soon after when Hooper got in behind the defence and squared to Fletcher, who somehow shot wide from eight yards with the goal gaping
Wednesday's next miss was more to do with the goalkeeping of Karl Darlow, though, as the Newcastle stopper bravely blocked Fletcher's close-range effort after Hooper had robbed Chancel Mbemba on the byline.
Benitez's men soaked it all up, however, and were within inches of taking a lead into the half-time break after a moment of brilliance from Shelvey that surely would have been goal of the season had it gone in.
A nice piece of skill saw him round David Jones and then, still in his own half, the midfielder sent an arrowing effort that sailed over the back-peddling Keiren Westwood and on to the bar.
Newcastle came out with attacking impetus after the break and Shelvey was again at the heart of everything they did.
He tested Westwood's handling on three separate occasions with shots from distance, the second of which was a low curling free-kick heading for the bottom corner.
But Wednesday showed some steel and forged a lead just before the hour mark when Lees rose highest to head home Ross Wallace's inviting delivery from a free-kick.
The second goal came eight minutes later as Fletcher atoned for his earlier misses by sending a looping header from Daniel Pudil's long throw.
It was a third strike in two games for the Scotland international, who particularly enjoyed his moment given his association with Newcastle's rivals Sunderland.
The visitors set up a grandstand finish in the 88th minute when Shelvey finally got on the scoresheet when he poked home after Westwood spilled Aleksandar Mitrovic's tame shot, but they could not force a point.
Source : PA