Hugh Wragg, editor of go-to website for Sheffield Wednesday fans OwlsAlive.com, has been watching the team from S6 for almost 20 years. Here he offers and honest and forthright assessment of their season so far and the huge challenge facing them at Bramall Lane.
- Wednesday started the season with expectation within the club and from the stands that this was the year Premier League football would be restored at Hillsborough. What has gone wrong and is a play-off place still a reality?
Any serious hopes of reaching the play-offs this season were quashed around six weeks ago.
Frustratingly, many of the problems that have hindered our progress this season were foreseeable. Wednesday’s recruitment model - which had largely focused on signing players who have enjoyed success in this division – is costly and carries one major flaw: the same players are not guaranteed to enjoy such success again.
As such, the cripplingly expensive squad contains players who are past their best, constantly injured, or failing to live up to expectation. Carlos Carvalhal was certainly not without fault during his tenure, but the club’s entire structure and long-term vision is chiefly to blame for Wednesday’s position.
- What do Wednesday fans make of Sheffield United’s progress since winning promotion from ‘the pub league’ last May?
The majority of level-headed Wednesday fans can only be impressed with United’s progress and how the club has stuck with a long-term plan that is evidently working.
Chris Wilder’s approach has won him many admirers – including myself – and his ability to lift players with average ability or limited experience must be particularly exciting for United fans.
For some reason unbeknownst to me, the fascination with United’s league position hangs over our own difficulties like the darkest storm cloud. Many of our fans are needlessly obsessed with it and it is apparently rubbing off on individuals at the club.
- Carlos Carvalhal has gone and another relatively unknown manager on arrival, German Jos Luhukay faces a baptism of fire at Bramall Lane, his first match in charge. Are supporters happy with this appointment and was it wise to sack Carvalhal so close to the Steel City derby?
Any leftfield appointment is bound to divide the fan base. At face value, Luhukay looks a good appointment. He reportedly has the right attributes and characteristics to lift what is left of the Wednesday squad. A disciplinarian with a keen eye for supreme physical fitness, he needs to get this squad moving, and quickly.
Of course, for many, only a star of the 1993 side would have sufficed in the hot seat. I’m looking forward to seeing the progress we can make under Luhukay.
What do you make of Adam Reach’s admission that United doing well has made Wednesday nervous.
Baffling. Even if we take this to be true – it is worrying how far this could be embedded within the psyche of certain individuals. And why would you admit this to the media?
- Ex-Owl Leon Clarke’s transformation at the Lane into the Championship’s leading goal scorer? Did you ever think that was possible?
Leon Clarke left Wednesday an injured player, breaking his toe in the act of celebrating a goal that could have gone on to secure our Championship status on a day that what was billed ‘Survival Sunday’ in 2010. You could not craft a better summation of his time at Hillsborough. He left Wednesday and meandered around the lower reaches of the Football League.
His signature for United was a joke amongst Wednesday fans. He started this season well down the Bramall Lane pecking order. Am I surprised to see him leading the Championship goal charts? Absolutely.
- For you, hoping that Wednesday win goes without saying but what is your genuine expectation at Bramall Lane on Friday night?
Unless Jos Luhukay has worked a motivational miracle at Middlewood Road this week, I am fully expecting a comfortable and embarrassing United victory.
The home side are more able technically, will be playing confidently in a system that suits them. United will be fitter than Wednesday. The away side will be a patchwork affair; second choice players will fill most positions. Jos Luhukay needs much more than a week to address the problems in his squad.
- Who should United fear most in the Wednesday squad and why?
It is a worry when you struggle to pinpoint one player who could be a threat. I’ll have to suggest Adam Reach, despite his admission that United worry him and his own terrible performance in the return fixture.
Reach is, technically speaking, an excellent player. Good feet, quick, capable of a very dangerous whipped cross. This season, he’s chipped in with an occasional (spectacular) goal. With Ross Wallace seriously lacking form and the rest of the first-choice providers side-lined, it will be left to Reach to provide Wednesday’s creative spark.
- Would you agree after Wednesday’s derby defeat at Hillsborough and all that has subsequently happened, Friday’s trip to the Lane is the most-challenging visit for many years?
Any trip to the Lane is difficult. Head back a decade to our frequent meetings at this level and United always had the edge over Wednesday; we mostly competed at opposite ends of the table.
To use cricket-speak, the fixture is a free hit for our new manager. Should we lose, it will have little or no effect on his long-term prospects, a strange notion when you consider the importance of the fixture. Should we win, he will be immediately lauded as a hero.
This is the most challenging of our away trips so far this season, and we head to it with a maximum of two first choice players fit. The Wednesday players’ task is to avoid the embarrassment of a United double - in the season during which a sizeable portion of our fans ‘celebrated’ your return, just so Wednesday could ‘collect’ another six points.
- Gary Hooper or Leon Clarke?
Gary Hooper, without question!
You can read this site's take on what Wednesday can expect as told to OwlsAlive.com here