PRESS | Luhukay and Wildsmith both calmness personified

PRESS | Luhukay and Wildsmith both calmness personified

Enter Joe Wildsmith.  A youth team product, still just 22 years-old and pencilled to be a worthy recipient of the “England’s number 1” chant at some stage in his career.

Possibly inspired by the life-long Owl’s game-changing save in the derby at Bramall Lane, certainly motivated by the way the youngster has responded to his call-up to the first team, Wildsmith was voted Wednesday’s Player of the Month for January.

Here he is. Fresh-faced, modest and generous about the role his team mates have played in his impressive run.

“The team is defending really well at the moment… it’s making my job a lot easier.” He’s as safe a pair of hands in the press conference as he is on the pitch.

With five clean sheets so far this season, is there any reason to assume Wildsmith will be back on the bench when Westwood finally shakes off his injury?

Imagine the Irishman with a glass to the media room wall. Eavesdropping for some reassurance, he hears this from the new boss,

“I can only speak now about Joe and about Cammy. The club can be very happy that we have two unbelievable and talentful young goalkeepers.

“Also, Joe was last Tuesday against Middlesbrough one of the best players in the team… We are very happy with them [Wildsmith and Dawson].

“We have two goalkeepers of 22 years who have fantastic futures, also for us as a club…”

Safe hands

In fairness, Luhukay hasn’t yet seen Westwood play on grass… and we learn today he has aggravated his long-term injury.

A period out isn’t going to turn him into a poor goalkeeper, but the maturity shown by Wildsmith – and Cameron Dawson – when called to cover the man with the Number One shirt might just shake his ‘indispensable’ tag.

With Westwood’s contract running to June 2019, could there be a temptation to cash in this summer?

We don’t know the answer to that. But we do know the emergence of young players in these very early days of Luhukay’s tenure is perhaps the clearest sign of change at S6 since the departure of Carlos Carvalhal.

Even die-hard CC fans knew parting ways with the man from Braga was both inevitable and necessary.

And only the most churlish would resent the early success of his slightly bonkers brand of shock and awe in South Wales. We remember that magic, while it lasted.

 

What a difference a year makes

 

This time last year, Wednesday were out of the FA Cup and had posted five points from four league games in January, scoring five goals on the way and lying sixth in the table.

After years of deadline day fake news, we finally landed Jordan Rhodes just before the January transfer window slammed shut. All seemed well in the world.

The old cliche: a year is a long time in football

Fast forward to February 2018.

Wednesday are still in the FA Cup, relishing the prospect of a tie against Carvalhal’s Swansea. We have amassed three points from four games, scoring no goals.

Yes. Three league games under new management have produced three goalless draws.

We lie sixteenth in the league, with the mathematical possibility of a relegation fight outweighing the odds of bridging the gap to the play-offs.

There has been the traditional last-minute transfer interest in Jordan Rhodes from a club that can’t afford him, but this time it’s not us.

And yet, all still seems well in the world. How can this be?

 

Compare and contrast

 

With his fondness for food metaphors, let’s call Carlos ‘cheese’.

Which makes Jos ‘chalk’.

After four weeks in post, Jos Luhukay is confirming those early rumours that Carlos he ain’t. And this, it seems, is the good thing.

As we know, Carlos was prone to impulse-buying players and then struggling to find somewhere to put them. He appeared stressed and distracted during each transfer window.

Calmness personified

Jos, on the other hand is calmness personified, shrugging his way through the stock questions for this time of the year.

Any interest in buying…? No. Are you looking for…? No. Do you want… I haven’t talked to anyone. Did they ask for…? That’s rumour and speculation.

Although doubtful many fans finished reading the Chairman’s lengthy missive about Financial Fair Play, it looks as though Jos at least got to the bit about not spending money.

The new boss is more open to taking a look at what’s already in the cupboard.

At his first press conference Luhukay talked about letting young players in the squad “show off.”

True to his word, just four weeks in Sean Clare, Frederik Nielsen, Connor O’Grady and Jordan Thorniley have been given a chance, along with the two young goalies.

Thorniley: has taken his chance well

Last season, Carlos’s youth development amounted to playing O’Grady once and George Hirst twice in the first team.

Arguably, the context is different now. There’s the epic injury list, of course, but there’s also the acceptance we are unlikely to be drawn into the magnetic field of promotion this time round.

And because of this, Luhukay can within reason experiment with youngsters without too much risk or pressure.

The manager’s challenge, he says, is not to overplay youngsters, “to be careful with the intensity” in a fixture list that includes six games in the short month of February.

He will also, surely, be mindful of the powerful magnetic force at the other end of the table. No-one wants to be drawn into a relegation battle. Including our visitors on Saturday, Birmingham City.

 

Saturday

 

Continuing the theme of ‘what a difference a year makes’, Sam Winnall scored in last February’s three-nil victory over Birmingham, cementing our place in the top six and contributing to the Blues’ undignified tumble down the table during Gianfranco Zola’s short- lived reign.

Twelve months on the match is also a six-pointer … this time to avoid being sucked into the drop zone.

Birmingham arrive at Hillsborough having lifted themselves out of the bottom three on the back of a 3-1 victory against Sunderland, who were window shopping for both Rhodes and Nuhiu if rumours are to be believed.

For the Owls, after taking points from promotion challengers the focus now moves to battling it out with another club eager to steer clear of danger.

Time to turn one point into three?

“This is going to be as big a game as Cardiff and Middlesbrough for us, with the added pressure of being at home,” says Wildsmith. His manager agrees.

The keeper describes the new defensive structure of three centre-halves and two defensive-minded wing backs as “nice” for him to play behind.

The goals against column testifies the team is defending well. But, you know what’s coming … When will the structure at the top of the pitch start delivering goals for?

In another chalk and cheese moment, while Carlos often said he would “rather win 10-9” Luhukay won’t be drawn on his attacking options without referring to the need to defend.

“You must always have good defending, but we must try tomorrow to have chances in offensive… we had not many chances against Reading, but we scored three goals. So, when we have the chances we can score… I’m relaxed. I have trust and confidence in my team,” says the boss.

Wednesdayites are willing Luhukay to succeed. For now – we all know how fickle social media can be.

Call us shallow, but fans want to see their team scoring goals.

Registering one or two on Saturday might just ignite a slow burn of belief that this season is a blip and the Owls have a brighter future.


Angela
Owls Alive
E-MAIL: owlsalive@gmail.com
Twitter: @OwlsAlive and @ABGalvin

Images: SWFC, unless stated.


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