Sheffield Wednesday are bang in mid-table at the moment, having fallen from Championship play-off contention around the turn of the year. What have you made of the season so far?
It’s been extreme, I would say. They were third after victory against Bristol City just before Christmas but since then, they’ve just two wins in 13, with some pretty heavy defeats along the way. There are some question marks over the running of club, the chairman, the mentality of some of the players and the work that the manager is doing and, which of the camps you sit in as a Sheffield Wednesday supporter will be dependent on who you blame the most. You either have a bunch of players who are fragile, a manager who isn’t capable and a chairman who is involved in the running of a football club that has spent an awful lot of money and yet they face a whacking great points deduction if it’s proven that they have flouted Financial Fair Play laws.
You mentioned manager Garry Monk, there. The Owls haven’t been on the greatest run of form of late and there’s some tabloid speculation that former Rangers boss Pedro Caixinha could be in the frame to replace him. Do you think he could find himself out of a job soon?
Given what I alluded to there, for what my opinion is worth, I think the problems at that football club supersede the manager, or indeed any manager, and I think Monk has done manful job, by and large with his hands tied behind his back. As stands to reason, he was a fantastic manager when Wednesday went third before Christmas, yet since that time, the problems that have been there for successive managers – including Steve Bruce, who did a pretty good job in the short amount of time he was there – have come back to the fore.
There are fans who would question whether Monk is the man to lead the change because there are a lot of players out of contract in the summer, which is part of the problem. But there are those that think if he should be given a fair hand. Whoever the next manager is – and I suppose we have to caveat that with ‘mays’ and ‘possibles’ – may be having to deal with points deductions as well so while Wednesday are comfortably in mid-table at the moment, it may be that they end up in a relegation battle and it has nothing to do with football. I think a degree of sympathy should be given towards the manager who is not daft. He knows results are king but, ultimately, there are bigger problems at the club than the manager.
The aforementioned downturn in form seemed to intensify once Steven Fletcher was sidelined for a number of weeks earlier this year. Having recorded his best goalscoring return since 2011/12 with 12 goals so far, could you attribute the slump to his injury, or was it sheer coincidence?
While Fletcher was a massive miss, very much a focal point for the team and it’s fantastic that he’s back and among the goals, I think it’s slightly misleading to say the downturn started when he got injured at Brighton because they had a horrendous Christmas prior to that and he was available for selection then. But there’s no doubt he’s essentially become a talisman within that team, has made the area his home and wants to stay beyond the end of his contract, which ends this summer. They have relied on him too much for goals this season and this is a Sheffield Wednesday team for whom productivity and supply line from the wingers isn’t that great, so the fact that his tally is what it is is extraordinary. In addition to that, he’s hardly played for the last month or so, so the downturn started before his injury, but his absence certainly hasn’t helped.
Connor Wickham and Josh Windass were brought in on loan at the end of the January transfer window – have they impressed in their first month at Hillsborough?
Well, Wickham looks to me like a player who is still trying to get fit and the times he’s played – or not played – at Crystal Palace, it looks as though he’s spent a great deal of time in the gym so he’s not as mobile as perhaps he once was. Again, striker’s feed off service, he could argue, quite successfully but he hasn’t had a great deal of it, so we’ve yet to see the best of him. As regards Windass, he’s done quite well in that slightly deeper-lying forward role, mainly at Barnsley where he scored. Both of them haven’t always been selected, which is perhaps a by-product of a manager who is trying to find his best team and they’ve been affected by that too. Wednesday fans haven’t seen the best of either yet, but it’s a difficult dressing room to walk into at a difficult point in their careers where they are trying to get fit. Put that all together and it hasn’t really worked for them yet.
How are Wednesday likely to set up on Saturday?
Invariably over the course of the past few weeks, except for what turned out to be quite the mis-step at Luton, Garry Monk has gone with four at the back and that had been the formation of choice. Cameron Dawson will be in goal, but in terms of the team, it will be similar to the one that lost to Derby. Morgan Fox is a mainstay at left-back, while Borner and Lees last weekend, but they have options at centre-half, so there may be a change to be made there. Murphy and Harris have been the predominant wingers, Bannan and Fletcher will definitely start. Beyond that, there are arguments to see a recall for Iorfa, potentially Nuhiu, Da Cruz and Windass too. Within that there are a few you can guarantee that will start, but beyond that there are five or six others that might change.
Brentford were defeated 2-1 in the return fixture back in December, but what’s your score prediction for the final meeting at Griffin Park?
If it’s anything like the match down there last season, Wednesday will owe Dawson a massive pat on the back because I think he prevented the scoreline from being a cricket score! They are fragile, there’s no denying it, but Brentford have drawn a lot of game recently and lost to Luton too so there’s a degree of hope that might not have been there had this fixture been staged a month or so ago. But in all honesty, I can’t see anything other than a relatively straightforward Brentford win right now, so something like 3-1.
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