Despite sitting bottom of the Championship table, owing to the 12-point penalty imposed by the EFL in July, Sheffield Wednesday have lost just once in five games and picked up eight points already. What have you made of their start to the season?
I think it’s been solid. It started in spectacular fashion with a win against Cardiff that I don’t think anyone was expecting and, beyond that, there have been several tight games, which Sheffield Wednesday have been either on the right or wrong side. For example, the match against QPR ended in a draw, but for large spells, Wednesday dominated and it looked as though they were strong-arming their way to another 1-0 victory but injuries conspired against them late on. In trying to whittle down this 12-point deficit, they are being as solid as they possibly can and trying to add a little bit more style to their game along the way. It’s working and, in the circumstances, you have to say they are doing the best they can.
In the current form they are in, you’d imagine it will be a matter of weeks before they move out of minus points. Do you think the penalty has directly sparked this?
To a certain extent, I think it has. Players who’ve been at football clubs that have had points deducted, generally, have found some motivation within that and I think Sheffield Wednesday’s players will look at that in similar ways. What I would also say is that the recruitment has been very good in the circumstances and I suppose you could successfully argue right now that any player that does sign for the club, whether that’s on a permanent basis or on loan, wants to be there because of that 12-point deduction, which say something about their character, too. In addition to all of that, towards the back end of last season, Garry Monk had been talking about leading a cultural change at the football club, which I dare say is code for getting rid of the lazy ones and moaners to actually have a squad of players that will fight for the cause. Whatever that motivation is, whether it’s for the badge – as everybody likes to think – or whether it’s for a bigger move, it would appear he’s getting there, so fair play to them.
The transfer business – particularly the additions of Jack Marriott and Aden Flint on Deadline Day – suggests Garry Monk may have aspirations that exceed just settling after the punishment has been served. Could they have one eye on a play-off push, perhaps?
Having just beaten Birmingham and been deserving of more than the 1-0 win that they got, any thought of the play-offs would be wonderful but, at this stage, it’s wildly optimistic. I think most Wednesday fans would be happy to get fourth-bottom first and then take anything beyond that gleefully. But I think they are helped this year, in my own personal opinion, by the fact that there are eight or nine teams that you might say could be worried or should be looking over their shoulder. If Sheffield Wednesday can get their act together as a mid-table team, on average, they’ll give them more than a fighting chance of staying up.
Which player would you suggest Brentford players keep an eye on on Wednesday night?
I run the risk of repeating myself here but Barry Bannan has been the outstanding player for several years and, to an extent, he still is. First and foremost, if I were a Brentford supporter, I’d look out for him, not least because there was an attempt to sign him prior to the close of the transfer window. What I know of Brentford, I can see him fitting the bill down there - without wishing to flog him! He’s a top player in the role that Wednesday have him in; not a No 10 so much anymore but almost playing that deeper-lying pivot or quarterback role that has become fashionable. I’m looking to see how Jack Marriott gets on because, when I’ve seen him playing for Derby, he’s always looked like a good player and also I think the development of Kadeem Harris and Joost van Aken have been two things to raise a positive eyebrow towards.
How is Monk likely to set up his side for the visit of the Bees?
He’s generally gone with three at the back, five in midfield and then two up top, though one of those could maybe be seen as more of a No 10 than the other one. I don’t really see that changing any time soon, though it may be dictated to by who he’s got available on the day. When Wednesday were out of possession against Birmingham, Massimo Luongo dropped into the back three, so what I would say is that they are more flexible than what they were. They are short of three centre-halves as Dominic Iorfa is injured for the next few weeks, Tom Lees was injured just prior to the international break but may return soon and Chey Dunkley is yet to play after joining from Wigan in the summer. It could be four at the back, but I’d say 3-5-2 with the likes of Bannan, Luongo, Adam Reach and Elias Kachunga in there.
Wednesday have triumphed in four of the last five meetings at Hillsborough, but what’s your score prediction for this one?
I can’t see it being a free-scoring type of match. Brentford have started pretty well and Ivan Toney has hit the straps but I think Wednesday are playing well enough to give a good account of themselves, so there may not be much in it and, positively, I’m going to go for a score draw. 1-1.
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