IN his weekly One To Watch column, EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) looks into the situation at Hillsborough as the Owls seek to secure survival.
Sheffield Wednesday have stabilised matters over the festive period
A week before Christmas, chairman Dejphon Chansiri hosted a fans’ forum, with heated discussions over both the need for transparency regarding the club’s financial position and the future of then manager, Jos Luhukay.
The latter subsequently departed the club soon after, with Lee Bullen taking charge over the festive period.
Bullen has won a lot of friends at Hillsborough through his straight-talking and honesty.
The fact that the intensity of performances have changed so drastically under the Scot would suggest that his hands were tied somewhat during the previous regime.
A 1-0 victory over 10-men Preston was followed up on Boxing Day by a 1-0 win at Middlesbrough; with two solid defensive displays inspired by the form of centre-backs Tom Lees and Michael Hector.
Lees is not the quickest but can be a solid Championship centre-back when given suitable responsibilities and adequate protection; Hector, although error prone, has physical qualities as well was the ability to distribute well.
The Owls were denied more one-goal triumphs in the following two games due to second half equalizers from West Brom and Birmingham, but the effort from players have given locals a sense that they have got their club back.
Back to basics
Bullen has brought Sam Hutchinson back in from the cold and the ball-winner has immediately re-discovered his prime 2016-17 form, snapping into challenges without hesitation to ensure the Wednesday are competitive in that midfield area.
The caretaker boss has also instilled confidence in Barry Bannan, who might not quite have the same energy and gusto he did in 2015-16 but remains a more than capable of dictating play.
The football has been early balls into a target man, either the gallant Atdhe Nuhiu or the powerful Steven Fletcher, triggering George Boyd, Adam Reach and Marco Matias to get beyond them.
Defensively, meanwhile, they have looked more compact; Liam Palmer and Morgan Fox are limited in terms of what they can do going forward but both full-backs allow little space in behind.
This week, it has been announced that a managerial team led by Steve Bruce will take charge of Sheffield Wednesday.
Bruce, himself, will not join up until February due to a prior personal issue, so coaching associates Stephen Clemence and Steve Agnew will take charge for now.
The key, in many ways, will be to maintain the template that Bullen, who stays as part of the coaching team, laid out.
Bruce’s arrival gives the club a lift, because his record of four promotions at Championship level inspires trust.
He would appear to be a safe pair of hands
Will youth develop?
The one downside to appointing Bruce is that he does not have the best record of nurturing young players.
Since Jordan Henderson left Sunderland for Liverpool in 2011, there are no examples of players under 23 who have developed under his tutelage and then moved on for a big fee.
In Sheffield Wednesday’s situation, the overspending during Carlos Carvalhal’s regime means they need to be very resourceful.
The club will rely heavily on the youth academy, with 15 members of the current squad having come through the system.
Unable to outspend their rivals, the Owls need a manager who will develop a brand of football that will showcase their young talent and convert them into saleable assets, before they have any money to spend.
Whether Bruce, Agnew and Clemence are the right men to do that, remains to be seen.
Two good stoppers
Bullen recently went on record as saying that Cameron Dawson has been Sheffield Wednesday’s best player this season.
The 23-year-old has made an impressive 76 saves – David Marshall, Marek Rodak and Sam Johnstone are the only Championship stoppers to have kept more this term and they have each played three more games.
Interestingly though, Bullen has recalled Keiren Westwood – who like Hutchinson was frozen out under Luhukay – which has partly been for political reasons.
Although Westwood is not necessarily a better goalkeeper than Dawson, he is a strong character and has an affinity with supporters which perhaps gives him the edge at this turbulent time.
The Betting Angle
How to make sense of these developments from a betting perspective?
Despite a four-game unbeaten run, Wednesday have not done enough to suggest they are about to go on a winning streak.
With Reach struggling to find the accuracy from range we saw in August, they perhaps do not have enough quality to be an appealing side to back.
Equally however, there is more tactical consistency to them now and with that has come solidity.
For that reason, it could be worth looking at draws in the individual match markets.
Hull v Sheff Wed – draw (12/5 Blacktype)