A thoroughly unexciting 0-0 on Wednesday night extends our unbeaten run to eight games. In what was a largely forgettable midweek game, the most notable thing to come out of it is a suspension for star man, Gustavo Hamer, which is a significant addition to our mounting list of missing players for this upcoming game against Sheffield Wednesday.
This final game before Christmas is a tipping point for where the rest of our season may lay. A win could push us comfortably into mid-table and under little pressure to pick up results for at least a few weeks. A defeat not only potentially drags us back towards danger, but provides a relegation rival with a desperately needed boost in confidence. We have dealt with that pressure well in recent weeks, but we’re not completely out of the woods yet.
The absence of Gustavo Hamer for this game leaves a major hole in the midfield that it’s hard to see who can fill. There just isn’t anyone to call upon who can replicate Hamer’s creative and defensive ability, along with the less tangible qualities of desire and urgency that he provides. With the team already lacking in a level of verve even with Hamer in the side, it’s hard not to be pessimistic about our ability to create chances without him.
With Liam Kelly also injured, it puts a lot of the burden of responsibility in midfield on the shoulders of Ben Sheaf – who has shown he is a talented player but doesn’t seem to possess the same level of character and presence as the two players he’s being asked to replace. The work-rate of Jamie Allen is going to be important in lessening the burden on Sheaf. There is then a decision to be made over whether to restore Jordan Shipley to the side to make it a midfield three or to go more attacking with Callum O’Hare.
To help bypass the deficit in midfield, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team go more direct into a front two – much like in the recent win over Rotherham United. Restoring Maxime Biamou to the starting line-up, after some apparent niggling injury issues over the past two games, would be a huge help in that regard. With Matt Godden reportedly back in training, it potentially provides the opportunity to hand Tyler Walker a desperately needed rest, but this game probably comes too soon for our top-scorer.
Last Time We Met
It was around the beginning of the long-awaited end for Chris Coleman the last time we took on Sheffield Wednesday. Despite the sale of Leon Best, the Welsh manager had somehow stumbled upon a team that got within touching distance of the play-offs back in 2010 but a defeat to Cardiff City in the game prior to this meeting with Sheffield Wednesday gave way for another fizzling out of a season under his uninspiring management.
With Sheffield Wednesday desperate for points to stay up, it was a pretty low-quality contest. An attack made up of a young Leon Clarke and Marcus Tudgay, lacked a killer touch in front of goal, but Luke Varney eventually gave them the lead in the second-half. With the game dwindling down, former Sheffield Wednesday academy graduate, Richard Wood, headed the Sky Blues level.
Here’s a video not of that goal but another chance Richard Wood had, because it was one of the only pieces of footage from this game I could find on YouTube.
The Manager – Tony Pulis
A manager who has famously never been relegated, Tony Pulis is putting that record on the line by taking over a Sheffield Wednesday side currently moored to the bottom of the Championship table. Whether it’s down to fading methods or a squad that isn’t suited to his brand of physical, direct football, Pulis’ appointment has made no impact thus far. Winless in eight games, the decision to sack Garry Monk – who’d had the team on course for safety despite the points deduction – is looking even worse than it did at the time.
The aim had been to get through to January where Pulis could bring in the players he needs to make his style of football works, but with news emerging that the club has failed to pay in full its players for November, the manager may not be getting the support in the transfer market he desperately needs. The issues at the club may well be too big for a even a manager of Pulis’ nous and experience. If Sheffield Wednesday were to lose this game, they may start to feel that their hope of survival are over.
Who To Look Out For
For all the malaise around Sheffield Wednesday at the moment, this isn’t a set of players that should be bottom of the table – regardless of the points deduction. The issue isn’t a lack of talent, but a lack of balance, hunger and a sense of identity that has come from the chopping and changing of managers in recent years.
In attack, Josh Windass and Callum Paterson are tireless runners and physical competitors who can also chip in with goals. While Jordan Rhodes has struggled for form since his move to Hillsborough, he is still a predatory finisher when he can get into dangerous positions. Wingers, Adam Reach and Kadeem Harris provide creativity and further goalscoring from out wide.
In addition, attacking midfielder, Izzy Brown, has shown in patches since joining on loan in the summer that he could be the class act to get Sheffield Wednesday’s attack firing. Further back in midfield, the ball-playing abilities of Barry Bannan and Massimo Luongo are up there with the best in the division – with Bannan a particularly reliable class act.
In defence, Tom Lees, Aden Flint and Chey Dunkley are all the kind of dominant, experienced, physical centre-backs that Tony Pulis tends to get the best out of. In goal, there is a chance that former Coventry City save machine, Keiren Westwood, could be back to provide the presence that the Owls desperately need between the sticks.
Where This Game Will Be Won Or Lost
The main task for us in this game will be in providing Sheffield Wednesday as little hope as possible that they can get the win that they so desperately need. Ideally, this would involve taking the game to them and getting an early goal, but without Gustavo Hamer in the side, the plan here may be to set-up to frustrate them as much as possible.
The physical battle between our strikers and Sheffield Wednesday’s big centre-backs is likely to be a key area of the game. If Maxime Biamou and Tyler Walker can replicate their performances against Rotherham United, they may be too hot for the Owls to handle. However, Lees and Dunkley are tough, experienced competitors who may make it difficult for us to go direct.
At the other end of the pitch, the pace and energy of Kadeem Harris and Josh Windass is likely to cause our defence the most problems. In addition, Sheffield Wednesday’s threat from Barry Bannan’s set-piece deliveries towards their big centre-backs could give them the edge in what is likely to be a tight, low-quality contest.