Danny Rohl hailed his Sheffield Wednesday side’s defensive discipline as they held on for a vital 1-0 win over Preston.
The Owls picked up their fourth victory in seven games thanks to Marvin Johnson’s first-half strike but were forced to hang on for their win after George Byers was sent off late on.
Preston had nine shots, but only two on target, as they desperately searched for an equaliser but none came as they drop to 11th in the Championship table.
Wednesday remain in the relegation zone despite claiming three points at Deepdale and face high-flying Hull next on New Year’s Day.
“It was a really tough game for us, but I expected that exactly,” Wednesday manager Rohl said.
“A big topic in our chat before the game was the importance of defending – we knew we’d have to do a lot of that tonight.
“Our defending in and around our box was brilliant. We’ve put in a great performance and done really well to get a big three points.
“The performance was not the best at times, mainly due to some poor positioning I suppose, but the players really fought all night and that was fantastic to see.”
Wednesday were backed by over 5,000 fans who filled an end at Deepdale and were not dampened by the driving rain, or Preston’s brighter start to the match.
North End skipper Alan Browne went close with a thumping drive early on before Wednesday replied as Will Vaulks headed inches over as he darted in to meet Djeidi Gassama’s cross.
Preston went close again as Browne worked the ball tidily out to Duane Holmes, and he turned inside before drilling an angled effort just over the crossbar.
But it was Wednesday who went ahead after 27 minutes as Johnson coolly slotted past Freddie Woodman after racing on to Bailey Cadamarteri’s precise through-ball.
Rohl added: “This was massive for the fans too. I think there were more than 5,000 of them here tonight, and I enjoyed celebrating with them at the end.
“I think they all recognise exactly what we are trying to do now – they can all see how close we are.
“Maybe we were a little bit lucky to get all three points in the end, but again we showed lots of that fighting spirit and we did what we had to do.”
Preston spurned chance after chance in the second half, but were given a lifeline in the 85th minute when Byers was sent off for a challenge on Mads Frokjaer-Jensen.
However, North End still could not find a way through as the full-time whistle sparked jubilant scenes for the Wednesday players and their travelling faithful.
And while Wednesday will look to ride the high from their win, Preston boss Ryan Lowe has called on his side to bounce back as they prepare to go to Sunderland on Monday.
He said: “It’s a massively frustrating night.
“There was certainly no lack of effort and determination from my lads, and the commitment was definitely there.
“We just didn’t quite do enough in the final third and didn’t get people in the right areas enough.
“We didn’t put quality balls into the right areas, and that’s cost us in the end.
“It’s about us bouncing back now. We had good moments, but we’ve just not found the finish.”