RAMBLE: Wednesday 2-0 Huddersfield Town
It’s interesting these days, listening to Praise or Grumble and Football Heaven; reading the twitter timeline and dipping into various forums.
Last season, as we all know, was something a little bit special.
We signed players that a year before we wouldn’t have mentioned in the same breath as Sheffield Wednesday.
We played a high pressing game, knocked the ball around superbly and scored at least 7 of the best 10 goals in the league that season.
Week after week was a revelation. Carlos’ brand of football enthralled us. We fell back in love.
This season however, as we all know, expectations have risen.
That’s what happens with success – unless you’re a Leicester fan… I’m sure they’ll live off of last season for a generation.
But it’s difficult for Carlos. The league dynamic has changed.
Last season we were an enigma, pundits led the plaudits about our refreshing brand of football.
Ian Holloway damn near proclaimed a man crush on Carlos at every opportunity.
This season however, there are three types of team in the league. Those that have adopted the high pressing game that was successful for us last season; those that have developed tactics to cope with the former and play on the counter; and Rotherham, who have learnt to do neither and find themselves where they are because of this.
This, in a nutshell was the pre-match debate between myself and a mate that I hadn’t seen for some time in the Horse and Jockey.
Why as fans are we so frustrated in a team that sits sixth in the league?
Tight at the back
A team that has only conceded one league goal since early December… and even that was scored by Sam Hutchinson.
A team that couldn’t do it against our play-off rivals last season, yet whom so far have picked up maximum points against Newcastle and Huddersfield.
I’ll admit, I sat firmly in the “We need to return to last season’s tactics” camp.
That was until Carlos’ post match interview at Newcastle. This, for me, revealed the tactical nous that the ‘praise and grumblers’ always claim a manager doesn’t have after losing a game… like they understand what it means.
The airwaves are filled with “He’s got no plan B”, “We’ve been found out”, “There’s no spark”, “We’re always passing backwards”, “(insert name) doesn’t look interested”.
I’m sorry if you are one of those people, but that is why your greatest achievement in football will be winning the champions league with Crawley on FM17. Real football is not about algorithms.
Fuelled by a third pint of Stancil Porter, I was now explaining to my bemused acquaintance how keeping the ball in certain areas of the pitch and exploiting the opposition’s weaknesses was just the way we set up this season.
It means keeping possession at all costs. It means every throw in, no matter how far up the pitch, is inevitably thrown back to the full back and worked across the back line away from the concentration of bodies, creating space across the park. I was getting a bit ranty.
His retort was that some players just aren’t doing it this season. Aren’t they?
Underachieving? I think not
With new tactics come new roles and responsibilities. Just because Barry Bannan isn’t spraying balls all over the park and covering every blade of grass doesn’t mean he is having a bad season.
It means he’s a professional footballer who is carrying out his boss’ game plan with commensurate ease. When the ball hits Fletcher and he doesn’t Cruyff turn his man, sprint in to the box and smash it in the top bin, I’m sure it’s not because he doesn’t want to, but if he tried it and conceded possession then he’d get the Carlos glare.
We couldn’t agree, so talk turned to our…
Sam Winnall seemed a strange one. We’d become used to spending 3…4…5 million on foreign imports or from teams who are ‘better’ than us.
But this might be a shrewd bit of business. Instead of trying to find the £12million to buy Jordan Rhodes, just go out and find the next Jordan Rhodes. The important thing with this signing for me is that Winnall brings yet another option to our forward line.
In Forestieri we have the roaming trickster. Fletcher is a competent back-to-goal hold up forward. In Joao we have an all rounder… if he can find a bit of form.
And in Nuhiu we have the colossus to resort to if all else fails. Winnall for me is a bit like Hooper, he plays on the shoulder of the last man but provides more running across the line.
He also heads the ball well, most of his goals this season have been headers, not because he’s a target man, but because he finds space and nips in front of his man.
Now that to me, sounds a bit like Jordan Rhodes, so I’ll settle for a £500k signing from Barnsley over a £12million bench warmer.
The team news came through and as expected Winnall was on the bench. No room on there for Fox though, our other new recruit.
McManaman has started well
McManaman was also on the bench. It occurred to me that throughout the last hour’s sparring over Wednesday’s form this season, we’d not once mentioned our visitors.
One of the form teams in the league and who were sitting comfortably above us in the play-off positions. A win for them could take them third.
Looking at our team news it was obvious Carlos was going for consistency, naming a team where everyone knew their job.
This would surely be important today against a strong, well organised side who just happen to play a lot like we did last season.
The walk down to the ground was biting and sobering in the low January sun. I’d left my old friend in the pub, probably deleting me from his Facebook contacts following my indignant and in all honesty condescending rant.
Nevermind… life will go on without photos of his dog.
A strong following from West Yorkshire made plenty of noise in the opening exchanges, including being the first club I’ve heard to pinch the “on our way” chant in its entirety.
They were in fine voice, out singing our half-hearted attempts which sporadically and unconvincingly rang out from the upper reaches of the North Stand.
The Hillsborough crowd its normal subdued self, waiting patiently to be entertained whilst not becoming overly frustrated was later praised by Carvalhal who appreciated us “staying with them”.
The first half was everything we expected. ‘Udders pressed high, Owls soaked it up trying to keep possession. Chances were few and far between.
Apart from a smart save from Westwood from an angled, driven freekick, the most memorable thing that happened was that the match ball had to be changed twice.
The game was a midfield battle which the opposition were winning, or at least that’s the way it looked.
Perhaps it was all part of the game plan to let them play triangles around the middle third whilst we sat back and watched.
Whenever the ball was nicked it went back to Lees, Loovens or Westwood to build again, with constant pressure from Wells who chased the ball like an angry wasp.
Reach controls the ball
Wednesday didn’t trouble the keeper at all.
Forestieri fashioned a half chance that he sliced into the west stand. Fletcher met a deep cross under a challenge and it looped harmlessly over.
Cue the half time queue.
Now, I didn’t think that service could get any worse than kids pouring cans of beer in to plastic cups and then adding up on a calculator.
But the new draught beer and EPOS systems on the North Stand has made queuing time horrendous.
I’ve got an idea though… what is the point of the Porter, Rivelin and Sheaf lounges? Surely it would make more sense and money to knock them all out and create three more kiosks.
Anyway, we supped up (quickly) and returned to our seats for the second half to the news that Winnall had come on… the next phase of the game plan.
Winnall looked to make the difference
Immediately it was Wednesday making all the running. Bannan pushing further up, Pudil and Hunt playing more as marauding wing backs with Hutch slotting back in to a three man defence as they pushed higher up.
Winnall running across the line, offering a different outlet to the hold up play of Fletcher.
Forestieri, who had actually been bright all game, pulled the strings, dragging players out of position and making space for his counterparts. This is how the first goal came about.
Fessi, having held the ball up on the left flank surrounded by several Town men eventually lost out and the ball was hooked towards the halfway line where a tussle between Wells and Hutch (which could have gone either way) eventually fell at the feet of Wallace, who in the acres of space created by Fessi’s magnetic pull on half of Town’s midfield, had the time to get the ball out of his feet and ping a 35 yarder right in the top corner.
A beauty of a goal fit enough to grace last season’s show reel.
Town fans fell silent.
Hillsborough was alive.
Everything was going our way.
A rash challenge on Hutchinson saw Payne sent off and as our West Yorkshire neighbours tried the last ditch tactic of sending their centre-halves up front.
For Wednesday, a through ball to Winnall was stabbed off his toe but only fell in to the path of substitute McManaman. He danced around the keeper a couple of times before squaring for Forestieri to poke home.
FULL TIME: OWLS 2-0 TERRIERS
The game was won. Another three points against play off rivals. That takes us to nine, already more than we managed all last season.
The drive home over the back whacks of Worrall and Oughtibridge allowed for some quality listening on Radio Sheffield.
Owls fans ringing in to wax lyrical about our second half performance.
Probably the same ones who call for Carlos to be sacked when we only draw with a resurgent Wolves.
But just as we were crawling up the hill to Grenoside the guttural tones of King Carlos warmed the air waves.
Once again he spoke about players having to adapt their game to the new roles expected of them.
About how Wallace and Bannan have been asked to play deeper and to not risk possession.
He heaped praise on the impact of new signing Winnall. And, as usual, he thanked the fans for sticking with the team and not panicking.
I finished my first ramble by saying that I thought Wednesday will make the play offs without necessarily getting me off my seat very often.
On our way…
I maintain that belief. Last season was memorable for lots of great reasons, but maybe, just maybe, this season will be the one that sets the foundations for a successful return to the promised-land.
Checking Facebook later that evening I had a “Nice to see you again… UTO” message from aforementioned friend.
It made me realise, we all have different opinions, that’s the beauty of football.
But one thing remains strong through the disagreements and sparring.
We’re All Wednesday Aren’t We?!
Twitter: @OwlsAlive and @GrenoOwl