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First Team

🆚 Hot Off The Press: Sheffield Wednesday

Andy Giddings, BBC Sheffield Sports Editor, previews The Owls

24 February 2021

Starting just before Christmas, Sheffield Wednesday have seen a marked improvement in terms of results that means they are now potentially just a handful of wins away from finally pulling away from the Championship relegation zone. How would you summarise the past few months?

Well, just that. They’ve battled back well and have had some excellent victories - the most notable being the one down at Bournemouth at the start of February, when they won 2-1 – and they’ve been on the right side of a few games that were tight. Along the course of that as well, they’ve also had periods of matches or matches in entirety, like the match against Coventry or the second half against Stoke, where they just don’t get going at all. All that sequence of results has done is get them back into a position where they can still challenge to stay up. Clearly, it’s still debatable as to whether they will, but they have a huge period coming up after this game where they really need to kick on from the last five or six weeks.

Neil Thompson has been in caretaker charge since just after Christmas and has overseen their best run of results since the start of the season, with six wins in the last 10, at the time of writing. Is he in the frame to take over on a full-time basis?

As things stand, Neil Thompson has the reins, but there has been no indication from the chairman of some kind of formal decision about the future, whether Neil takes it to the end of the season or whether he doesn’t and somebody else comes in. We know that he is popular among the players, so that in itself bodes well, and he’s helped to put smiles back on their faces over the course of the last few weeks, which has helped the results along the way. He’s a positive guy, too. From a personal perspective, I see no reason to make any dramatic changes because even if they did bring in a new manager, the same problems would apply. We are aware that certain managers have been spoken to, but it doesn’t appear anything more formal than that has taken place so Neil Thompson is in charge for the foreseeable future. That might end tomorrow or it might end at the end of the season or beyond.

Last month, Andre Green and Sam Hutchinson joined the club on free transfers, while Conor Grant left for Rochdale. Do you think Thompson – or whomever succeeds him – has a squad capable of beating the drop?

They’ve got a squad capable of beating the drop but ultimately, if they do, they’ll be reliant on players that have been there for a while. Players like Keiren Westwood, Tom Lees, Barry Bannan, Adam Reach and Chey Dunkley will be key. The arrivals who’ve come more recently have added to the squad, though I don’t necessarily think the squad has improved dramatically since the early part of the season and also, they have one or two decent kids like Liam Shaw who are making names for themselves. Arguably the key in all of this is whether they can score more goals. Every now and again you get a glimpse of something from Jordan Rhodes but not enough – and he’s far from the only one, it’s just unfortunate that he’s the big name with the heavy price tag. They were always capable of staying up in a Championship that, for me, has eight or nine teams you could put into the ‘could go down’ bracket and Wednesday are just one of those.

Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this Wednesday night?

Still the most influential figure in that team is Barry Bannan, who Brentford tried to sign, of course. Chey Dunkley and Tom Lees have been decent recently, while Kadeem Harris has shown glimpses of what he’s capable of in the last few weeks as well. Ultimately, the core of the team is the same as it was before the previous meeting between the two sides.

How are Wednesday likely to set up for their first trip to the Brentford Community Stadium?

It’ll probably be a 3-5-2, which has worked more often than not recently. It provides width; in Harris, they’ve got a decent outlet down the right, likewise with Reach on the left and they are fairly solid in central midfield. Wednesday aren’t short of decent centre-halves, either, so that formation works for them.

An Ivan Toney double earned Brentford a 2-1 win in the reverse fixture at Hillsborough back in October. What’s your score prediction this time around?

I know Brentford have had a couple of duff results recently but they are still clear favourites for the match and so I can imagine it will be a similar scoreline, possibly 2-0 to Brentford.

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