I think that this season has been a disappointment overall and the multi-layered arguments for that are many and varied. For example, the team selections of the previous manager Jos Luhukay, the constant chopping and changing of the team from week to week, and the exiling of certain senior players for most of the season up until he was sacked, who, lo and behold, were quickly brought back.
Due to the quality of the squad there were never any major fears, and I say this from an impartial point of view, that they were ever going to get relegated, but there was a bit of angst for a time and now, as their record suggests, they are slap-bang in mid-table mediocrity.
Steve Bruce was appointed as Luhukay’s successor in January and took over earlier this month. The Owls haven’t lost a league game under him yet and they’ve kept three clean sheets in their last five games, albeit against struggling sides. What’s the general reaction been to his appointment?
The general reaction was highly-favourable. Steve Bruce is a very decorated Championship manager, with four promotions from this division on his CV and having kept Wigan in the Premier League as well. Wednesday fans have enjoyed the fact he was going to be their manager; some were a little perplexed by the fact that he didn’t start straight away, but I think we’d all agree that that was actually football showing its human side for once and good on the club for allowing him to do so. His coaching staff came in pretty much straight away, established a fairly strong defensive base for which there have been clean sheets and then they will try to build from there from now until the end of the season.
He did bring in three players - Rolando Aarons and Achraf Lazaar on loan from Newcastle and defender Dominic Iorfa on a permanent deal from Wolves – to bolster the squad in January. Certainly in terms of Aarons, they’ve got pace, which is something that the team lacked and they’ve built from there. Some of the performances along the way have left a bit to be desired; at Millwall they were far better in the second half than the first and against Rotherham, Steve had some pretty stinging things to say about their performance, despite the late drama in a 2-2 draw.
The first home win on Saturday will have exorcised a few demons and it’s a more Steve Bruce-looking team than perhaps over recent weeks. They need to keep a bit of a feel-good factor going because they’ll need to keep the fans onside between now and the end of the season, but only optimists think they are going to trouble the play-offs.
Anything is possible in the Championship, but it’s looking likely the club will post another mid-table finish this term. With Bruce at the helm, is there a feeling that he’ll give them the stability on which to build and perhaps mount a promotion charge, as they did in the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons?
Yes, I think there is actually a fair degree of optimism in that respect. He will have more power over transfers than any of his predecessors under the current chairman, Dejphon Chansiri, and he wouldn’t have signed on the dotted line if he didn’t have ultimate control over who comes in and goes out. The Steve Bruce team that will end up at the start of August will be very much his own, but the caveat to that is that it’s a huge job.
Part of the reason it’s a huge job is that Sheffield Wednesday are beset by financial issues rather than problems and it is highly-expected that they’ll be placed under a soft transfer embargo in March. It’s how the continue to justify to the football authorities that they are trying to get their house in order. It’s not the first time Steve has had to deal with that, but he has to now, so, to a certain extent, that will be restrictive.
The other side to that is that there are 10 players out of contract in the summer, which should give him a fair amount of leeway in terms of wages to try and bring in a few of his own players. It might be different now, but history suggests that, while he builds a 90 per cent squad, he then adds to that with pretty decent loan signings. All of that together provides every reason to be optimistic next season.
Which player should Brentford be wary of at Hillsborough on Tuesday evening?
The two main headline acts have been Adam Reach and Barry Bannan, the latter of whom has been the lynchpin of everything good that’s been good about Sheffield Wednesday this season, for the most part. To a certain extent, it got to the stage around mid-October where you thought he couldn’t do it all himself, but there are obviously notable players back in the ranks, like Keiren Westwood, who has been very much part of the recent clean sheet record since his return to the starting 11. Michael Hector and Tom Lees are a good central defensive partnership and Fernando Forestieri has been in and out so we’ll have to see whether he plays or not, but he can be dangerous on his day.
How are Wednesday likely to set up? Can you provide any injury news?
Further to that, Steve Bruce has generally gone with a 4-4-2 formation though there are, at times, cosmetic differences to that. Westwood will be in goal, though down at Griffin Park, Cameron Dawson played and he’s had a notable season. I think he’s had a good one and has taken a lot of flak that he doesn’t really deserve, but Westwood, as the experienced man, came back in after the previous manager left.
It’s hard to see anything than Palmer, Lees, Hector and Lazaar at the back, though Morgan Fox might have something to say about that. In midfield, Reach, Hutchinson and Bannan will certainly play, it’s just whether Aarons or Forestieri will play on the left-hand side, then two of Forestieri, Steven Fletcher and Lucas Joao up front.
What’s your score prediction for Tuesday’s game?
It will be very different. Brentford fans will perhaps remember Sheffield Wednesday at Griffin Park and wonder how the scoreline was only 2-0. They’ll be buoyed by the success against Swansea at the weekend, but it will be a very different game to that because Brentford have been outstanding over recent weeks. On the basis that the Owls will play with a smile on their faces, I’d back them to nick it maybe 2-1.
There will be Pay on the Day tomorrow from the away turnstiles, cash only,
Collections and duplicates will be available from Gate 6, next to the away turnstiles.