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In what is becoming habit, City head off to Hillsborough to round off their season. Awaiting them are a Sheffield Wednesday side who, like City have nothing but pride to play for. Inflatables at the ready then? Jon Punt speaks to Owls journalist George Smith.
Jon: This season really hasn’t panned out as expected for Wednesday. The smart money (from an outsider’s perspective) was on another play off push, especially given your levels of expenditure in the past few years. What went so horribly wrong?
George: After missing out on promotion to the Premier League by such a fine margin for the second season in succession, everyone had a good feeling about this campaign. Some thought a top-2 push was possible but I was leaning more towards another top-6 assault for the Owls.
Things began reasonably well, despite minimal movement in the transfer market to add the quality that we needed and we only lost 1 of our first 8 matches. It was a solid start and a platform was there to build on.
But then came the Steel City derby at Hillsborough, the first one for nearly 6 years. Sheffield United, of course, won 4-2 and the team never seemed to recover from that. I think that was the start of the downward spiral.
As well as that result which, of course, had a clear effect, the club began to pick up injury after injury. We aren’t talking one or two small niggles here and there, we are talking losing big name players such as Keiren Westwood, Barry Bannan and Gary Hooper, plus Fernando Forestieri, who had been out since August. It had an almighty effect and the spine of the team was ripped out.
Carlos Carvalhal left the club on Christmas Eve and everyone had a feeling that things from then on would improve. The play-offs were still possible but it would have taken an incredible turnaround.
Jos Luhukay came in, steadied the ship, worked well with the minimal resources that he had and everything seemed okay. Then came a problematic period in February and March where we lost 4on the spin.
The likes of Tom Lees, Bannan and Forestieri returned in March and Wednesday have picked up since then. Overall, it is the injuries that have been Wednesday’s main problem. We still have 10 first-team players out through injuries.
Jos Luhukay was a left field pick, much like Daniel Farke for Norwich. Has anything particularly impressed or worried you so far? I had read he’s been promoted with every club he’s managed so far, but that was true of Simon Grayson up until this season…..
When Sheffield Wednesday opted to appoint Jos Luhukay as Carlos Carvalhal’s replacement I was fairly surprised. The club were, in my opinion, in desperate need for someone who had Championship experience. It was a brave move by the chairman.
But I think the players were in need of some much-needed discipline and Luhukay certainly stamped his authority on that front from the start. He changed the training regime, responsibilities around the training ground and demanded more from his players.
To be brutally honest, I would not saying anything has particularly worried me. His decision to field a weakened side against Swansea City in the FA Cup 5th round and his act to play no strikers away at Millwall in February was a baffling idea but he said that was down to fitness levels. And to be fair to Luhukay, who comes across as a very friendly and polite person, he knows his players. It was no secret they were not fit enough.
But overall, I have been pleased with what he has done after coming into the club in such a difficult situation due to the injury crisis. He steered the club away from danger and has got the job done. His inclusion of youth players, though given little choice through the extensive injury crisis, has been a very pleasant sight. But that is Luhukay’s policy. He is a firm believer in youth.
He, of course, came in at a difficult stage and now needs the time to build his own squad and get his ideas across. Overall, though, I have been happy with Luhukay’s work so far and I am looking forward to seeing what he can bring to the party next season.
Moving into Saturday’s game, I’ve noticed you released a few of the squad this week. Is this a chance to say fond farewells, or an opportunity to blood some of the talent which will feature next season?
The club, quite surprisingly, released their retained list on Tuesday evening, even though 1 game of the season remains. I have never known any team to do that before the season is out. But it shows just how quickly both Jos Luhukay and Dejphon Chansiri, the club’s chairman, want to act this summer.
From the retained list, Jake Kean, an ex-Norwich man of course, Glenn Loovens and Ross Wallace are to be released. Out of those three, the only one that could feature is Loovens, who deserves a good send-off. He joined the club back in December 2013 and has been a big part of both the ups and downs since then.
He is a very popular player with the fans, and though the decision to see him move on is the right one, he will get a good reception from them should he play. In my opinion, he has to be given one last game and the final chance to pull on the captain’s armband, whether it be from the start or a cameo appearance off the bench.
As for Kean and Wallace, they won’t feature. Kean is out on loan at Grimsby Town and Wallace is recovering from a knee problem. But should Wallace take part in the end-of-season traditional lap of honour then I almost certain he will get a fond farewell as it is the very least he deserves.
I think Sunday’s match is just another game for us. It’s likely that Luhukay will continue with the same crop of players he has used in the past few weeks. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether Loovens will start or not. If he does, it would be fantastic to see him lead the Owls out onto the pitch for one final time.
So what kind of style has Luhukay implemented? Easier on the eye than his predecessor?
That is a hard question to answer. At times it is difficult to judge what Jos Luhukay’s preferred style is.
In his opening couple of months at the club he was forced to play in a very defensive manner, but I would guess that was down to the fact he was without key personnel. When the Owls were missing Barry Bannan and Fernando Forestieri they were always going to feel the difference.
However, since they have returned, Wednesday have looked a lot better in an attacking sense. They have a lot more desire to get forward and that has been shown in the recent 4-1 win over Preston and 3-0 success over Reading.
But in terms of play style in comparison to Carlos Carvalhal’s days, there is not, compared to earlier this season, that big a difference. Carvalhal only deployed an entertaining football policy in 2015/16. Last season, despite finishing 4th, it was boring to watch at times.
So onto Sunday, what are you expecting? You’re meeting a Norwich side which has little to play for, apart from finishing above our neighbours, so is this end of season inflatables and a bit of a party?
The pressure, of course, is firmly off for both clubs. They have nothing but pride to play for.
From a Wednesday perspective, they have the chance to end the season on a 4-match unbeaten run should they avoid defeat. It will certainly allow the players to head into the summer with a sense of pride after what has been an incredibly disappointing season.
Personally, based on the last few performances, I think Wednesday will win. It may not be straightforward but I think they will have too much. Fernando Forestieri is bang in-form and will be up for the occasion.
But whether it’s a time to get the inflatables out and have a party is another question. It simply is not the case for Wednesday. This season has been hugely disappointing and a failure. The Owls have very little to celebrate. It is all about ending the season on a high ahead of re-grouping and going again next season when we will hopefully see the Owls enjoy a far better season.
Thanks George, for what it’s worth I think we’ll spank you, just for the #bantz of not scoring more than 4 at any point this season, I reckon we’ll win 6-1. Not really, but it’d be nice.
Second; did you know we have a podcast? It’s available via iTunes and Soundcloud. Alternatively you can just listen to it in your browser via our podcast page. Archant’s Paddy Davitt was our recent guest as we debated the latest talking points yellow and green.
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