SHEFF WEDS (H); THE PREVIEW

18/04/19

A game of huge magnitude, can both sides of Sheffield help City out to deliver a promotion party? Jon Punt spoke to Owls fan Aiden Cusick to find out.....

Jon: With Steve Bruce packing the Factor 50 and booking a week in the Algarve for the entire squad, we're all agreed that the Owls should just rollover and gift Norwich the 3 points, yeah?

I mean we wouldn't want your rivals for the biggest club in Yorkshire (Leeds, obvs) winning the league now would we? Also, victory for City and the Blades slipping up to Forest could mean one big promotion party at Carrow Road. We'll save you a glass of champagne if you agree to play nice....

Aiden: I think you'll find 'wor Brucie has had enough vacays of late (at least according to Danny Murphy) and, as he likes to put it, we're still in with a 'squeak' of promotion ourselves. Sadly for you (happily for his fellow holidaymakers), one suspects he won't be fully beach-ready until said squeak is mathematically silenced. Even if results have gone against us by kick-off on Friday, we'll still be playing for something at Carrow Road.

Of course, we don't want Leeds to win it, but at this stage I think most of us would settle for that in exchange for the Blades staying put next season. Luckily (for both Wednesday and City), there's now a comfortable gap between each of those hideous possibilities.

I would therefore suggest keeping the champagne on ice until that's all done and dusted (or better still, the pair of them somehow simultaneously combust and are passed by West Brom).

Alternatively, you could always sup it yourselves and put your generosity towards buying Jordan Rhodes?

Hmmmm, Mr Rhodes. That's a good one, what have you made of him at Wednesday? He doesn't really fit our style of play but is apparently excellent around the changing room and a fairly decent impact sub.

Never have I ever wanted a player to succeed more for us than Rhodes, except for perhaps Chris Sedgwick. Aside from being our record signing (one we risked breaching and subsequently did breach FFP/P&S for), he's understood to be one of the nicest people in football, while his dad (Andy) worked for us too until last summer.

In hindsight, he wasn't what we needed at all, despite getting off to a flying start - as you guys may recall? He remains one of seven (!) senior strikers on our books but is arguably the most limited of those outside of the six-yard box (although he was always quite good at drawing fouls, which I liked).

Once the goals dried up (after a succession of uncharacteristically spurned opportunities) there was little justification for keeping him in the team, and after that his confidence appeared to take another beating from which he doesn't seem to have recovered. Some of this probably sounds familiar? Rhodes' Wednesday prospects have at least brightened with the appointments of Steves, Bruce (who's wanted him before) and Agnew (his maternal uncle). However, my gut says we'd be better off cutting our losses, although I'm not expecting you lot to buy him whichever league you're in.

This all sounds very familiar. Ah well, I'm sure he'll find a home.

Bruce really seems to have turned you guys around quickly, what's been the secret?

Initially a great backroom team. It was Lee Bullen, our long-serving coach, who steadied the ship after December's departure of Jos Luhukay. Under Bullen, we won two and drew two out of four, and kept as many clean sheets (two) as we had throughout the rest of the campaign. Our resilience continued once Bruce's men arrived (one hefty defeat at Hull aside) but it is under the man himself that we have really kicked on. As well as being tighter at the back (it's now 11 clean sheets in 20), we get the ball forward with far more urgency than we used to - and with confidence too. Our style is perhaps not the easiest on the eye, but it's effective and certainly more entertaining. Sometimes a manager just fits a club, and it feels that way with Bruce and Wednesday - whose players and fans alike appeared united behind him (for want of a better phrase) from minute one. The two have flirted for years (his son, Alex, had a loan spell here, while he's always been complimentary about our fanbase) and he is proving to be worth the wait - although succeeding arguably the worst manager in our history certainly hasn't harmed his cause.

I've always had time for Wednesday, proper club. Really hope Bruce gets you going again next season.

I also really liked Gary Hooper when he was at Carrow Road. His spell with you seems blighted by injury, how's he looked since his return?

Yeah, 15 months he was out for, which brought setback after setback. We went without plenty of others in that time (hence our sudden disappearance from the Championship's top end) but he was arguably the biggest loss of all.

It wasn't just his predatory instincts we missed but also his intelligent link-up play. Both of these things became even more evident upon his return last month. To borrow a tweet I saw recently (which I now can't find and won't be doing the justice it deserves): 'Hooper's anticipation is so good he can see what our lass is making for my tea before she's even been to the shops!' (Apologies again to that man.)

Aside from his failure to complete 90 minutes, you couldn't really tell he's been injured. But as you say, it's not his only absence here, and given our ongoing battle with FFP/P&S, it remains to be seen whether we'll offer him a contract (his existing one expires in June) - let alone whether he'd accept it if we do.

Onto Friday then, what kind of system are you expecting to line up with, and how expansive do you think you'll be? I caught a lot of the game against Leeds and they seemed to have you fairly well pinned in for long periods. Can you do that again please?

Some version of 4-4-2, most likely. However, with Adam Reach and (Max's cousin) Rolando Aarons both missing, our attacking threat is instantly reduced and points towards a repeat of Saturday's suffocated showing at Leeds - after which Bruce conceded we were second best. Marco Matias is again Reach's most likely replacement on the right of midfield, which is good news for City given the Portuguese's allergy to defending. Alternatively, Bruce could opt to deploy an extra central midfielder (such as Joey Pelupessy or the fit-again Josh Onomah), either in Reach's place or that of one of our two strikers, and go 4-5-1/4-2-3-1. However, I'm not convinced the latter will happen and suspect we will at least *try* to attack (which could, in turn, create gaps for City to exploit). We've still got a 'squeak' of the play-offs, after all - although, I fear we'll struggle however we choose to play it.

I misread that and thought you had Ronaldo playing for you. Tbf wouldn't surprise me if Cristiano and Max were actually cousins, such is the youngster's prodigious talent.
So, specific score prediction time then. I'm going for a promotion sealing day at the Carra, Blunts to go down 2-1 to Forest, then Pukki parties his way to a hat trick in a 3-1 victory. You?

Yes, I remember him from Hillsborough (*shudders*). Probably shouldn't have given him the freedom of our left side, in hindsight. Having seen Forest play as recently as last Tuesday (truly, absolutely awful), I can say with confidence that they won't be beating the Blades (but here's hoping). 3-0 home win there; 2-1 home win in Norfolk. Wednesday going ahead and losing to two late (probably Pukki) goals seems plausible. Champagne on ice for another few days

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