PREVIEW | Middlesbrough -v- Wednesday

PREVIEW | Middlesbrough -v- Wednesday

Progress has been steady in the first few weeks of Jos Luhukay’s term as Wednesday manager.

Changes have been made both on and off the pitch, and results have slowly improved. Luhukay’s team is unbeaten thus far.

His willingness to trust players who were stranded in youth teams or previously cast aside has been refreshing.

Who would have guessed that Marco Matias would look a threat in a Wednesday shirt? Did any of us believe our defensive youngsters could challenge Championship hotshot Kenneth Zohore?

Atdhe Nuhiu has enjoyed a little scoring renaissance to the delight of his faction of supporters. The man loves this club and I love him. Give him a lifetime contract immediately.

Club captain Glenn Loovens has this week paid tribute to Luhukay’s character and says his strict methods – well documented online in the  run-up to his appointment – are working.

Players are arriving earlier, leaving later, worked harder. The team spirit is improving because the squad are spending more time together, including mealtimes.

It sounds obvious – “why did nobody point this out before?” –  however, a fresh pair of eyes can often see where such mistakes have been made.

Luhukay’s changes have been welcome (Image: zimbio.com)

With two cup victories (and one draw that Luhukay oversaw), this little unbeaten run-lite has yet to manifest itself in progress up the Championship table and, crucially, away from the sharks that circle ominously beneath.

Could a Cup run – and potentially a swift return to Hillsborough for Carlos Carvalhal – distract the club from the task at hand?

Ask that question now, with spirits high and the club looking forward: the answer will be yes – give the returning players as much of an opportunity to play and adapt to the new manager’s style.

Ask the same question tomorrow, after a damaging defeat to Boro and a slide down the table, and suddenly focus has to be on the league.

With players returning and performances good, confidence is improving within the camp.

There is no reason that Wednesday can’t head to Middlesborough and secure a good result.

Their good league form under Tony Pulis has caught the eye, with three wins from four this month. He elected to leave several first choice players out of Saturday’s cup defeat to Brighton, and lamented bad luck for their second consecutive home reverse.

Boro’s other three games this month have seen them score eight goals – so inconsistency in the early days of the Pulis reign looks to be a factor.

There’s two things you can be sure of: this Wednesday side will not fold in the same way they did in the return fixture.

Also, Pulis versus Luhukay: it’s not going to be free-flowing.

 

 

 

Reading are enduring a poor season: much like Wednesday, they are paying for not crossing the final hurdle of the play-offs in May.

Having said that, Wednesday still did well to put three goals past them and secure a fifth round berth in the FA Cup.

Athde Nuhiu and Marco Matias excelled for Wednesday, who picked up the pace in the second period after a slow first half.

Nuhiu beat a good-looking offside trap to score the first, slotting under the Reading keeper at his near post.

Atdhe celebrates goal one

The persistence of the Portuguese winger created the second, chasing down a lost cause and winning the ball back before picking out Nuhiu in the box to slot home.

George Boyd then chased an equally lost cause that confused both centre-half and defender. The Scot was able to get to the ball first and calmly slotted past Jaakkola who had vacated his goal.

Cameron Dawson had made a string of impressive saves, particularly in the first half, to keep Wednesday level and then comfortably ahead.

Jos Luhukay paid tribute to his third-choice ‘keeper after the match, saying “Reading gave us problems in the first half, they had a couple of chances but we have a fantastic goalkeeper.

“In the right moments, we took our chances to score. We hope these games give the team confidence in the coming matches and of course for the next round.”

Morgan Fox congratulates Boyd (Image: Daily Mail)

Boro manager Pulis sided with his own players after their cup exit.

“I’m disappointed for the players who have worked so hard again. But we’ve got to be more clinical in the final third.

“It’s a fortuitous goal they’ve scored, it’s a nightmare for us in respect the players don’t deserve it.

“I just hope it’s all the bad luck out of the way, because that’s what it’s been. You can’t legislate for that.”

Glenn Murray netted the late Brighton winner, his first match since the joint arrest of he and his wife for tax fraud.

 

 

LAST 5 Reading (H) Cardiff (H) Carlisle (H) United (A) Carlisle (A)
WEDNESDAY W 3-1 D 0-0 W 2-0 D 0-0 D 0-0

 

LAST 5  Brighton (H) QPR (A) Fulham (H) Sunderland (H) Preston (A)
BORO L 0-1 W 3-0 L 0-1 W 2-0 W 3-2

 

HEAD 2 HEAD WEDNESDAY WINS BORO WINS DRAWS
  46 45 17

 

 

LAST MEETING

 

Wednesday 1-2 Boro

23rd December 2017, Hillsborough, Att: 27, 471

The final nail in the Carvalhal coffin.

Shotton celebrates in front of Leppings Lane

As an aside, should he return next month with his new club, I hope our former Head Coach gets the very best reception that he deserves.

That Boro came from behind to beat Wednesday and then proceeded to sack Garry Monk was a little more puzzling.

Ross Wallace had given the home side the lead in the first half, sweeping home a tidy finish after a lovely counter attack that was reminiscent of the Wednesday of old.

Boro were given a route back into the game with a stick-on spot kick. Joe Wildsmith saved from set-piece specialist and full-time wazzock Grant Leadbitter, only for Jonny Howson to beat the young stopper with a boucning effort that could have been better dealt with.

The away side had improved after the break but neither side deserved to take three points.

A late header from Ryan Shotton saw that Boro did claim the win however, and from there Carlos’ fate was sealed.

Matt’s ramble is available to read here.

 

THE LUHUKAY STARS…

 

Finally, some good news! Kieren Westwood is back to stock up our options between the sticks.

Once fully fit, he will be the preferred choice, but now by nose rather than a couple of lengths. Joe Wildsmith has collected plenty of Championship experience during the past three seasons and Cameron Dawson is an excellent back-up to have.

Tom Lees and Barry Bannan are back to different stages of training but will not be rushed into the side. Avoiding injury recurrences and moulding them to Luhukay’s system has to be the priority.

Fernando Venancio has enjoyed a good month, as has Daniel Pudil in his return to the team. Glenn Loovens also played against Reading following his ban and is available for selection.

For the moment, Morgan Fox has the left wing berth to himself, while Jack Hunt and Liam Palmer compete for the same spot on the right.

Atdhe Nuhiu and Lucas Joao is are likely to continue up front following their good form, with Matias missing out on this occasion.

 

WILDSMITH

VENANCIO

LOOVENS

PUDIL

HUNT

WALLACE

PELUPESSY

REACH

FOX

NUHIU

JOAO

KEY PLAYERS

 

ATDHE NUHIU – Key player for Sheffield Wednesday in the year of our Lord 2018. And absolutely fantastic it is, too.

I look forward to seeing him selected for the bench.

GRANT LEADBITTER – Not the danger man, truth be told, but the player that makes this side tick.

Good on the ball, strong in the tackle, does the simple things well. His several years at the top end of this division and the bottom end of the Premier League only evidence his quality.

He also has that aforementioned knack of wazzockry – gaining the referee’s ear, winding up opposition fans, playing the game at exactly his own pace. Through the dark arts he can gain control of a game, and then do the talking with his feet.

 

 

THE BETTING BOX: 5 OF THE BEST

 

BET Wednesday WIN Boro WIN DRAW
0-0 Penalty in match
BEST ODDS 5/1 3/4 11/4 81/10 10/3
BOOKIES

 

HUGH’S VERDICT – It’s still early days for Luhukay, and with the trio of cup games he still finds himself under very little pressure.

He will be challenged to improve upon goalless draws in his league games, but not tonight. Middlesbrough are resurgent for the most part under Pulis and have a wealth of options all over the pitch.

Luhukay’s patchwork of the unfit, the untried and the returning from the cold will do well to get a positive result here. However, in the same way that we’ve seen success against two promotion contenders already, we can expect further improvements from the squad that is available.

This game provides another excellent opportunity for several players to prove their worth to the new manager.

Let’s hope they take it.

Hugh
Owls Alive
E-MAIL: owlsalive@gmail.com
Twitter: @OwlsAlive and @hugh_wragg

Images: SWFC, unless stated. Line up images: Getty.


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