Monday 30 May 2016

Fan's eye view: Sheffield Wednesday v Hull City play-off final

Wednesday's might've lost on the pitch at Wembley but it still felt like a release for the fans to have a huge day like that. There's little point adding more analysis of the match as the Owls didn't really turn up, simple as, so here's some pictures of the day including a few from the nosebleed seats. It may be expensive but there isn't a bad view inside the national stadium.

Friday 27 May 2016

Fan's eye view: What to expect from Sheffield Wednesday v Hull City play-off final

We're nearly, nearly there. As the day of the play-off final against Hull City is almost upon us, here's a few things we can expect.

On the way
Perhaps it says everything about our recent history that, since we last visited Wembley, they've knocked the whole thing down and the famous twin towers are no more. Getting to Wembley will be a laborious mission for most of those descending from Yorkshire, not least when both set of fans converge around King's Cross. The police have already said the trains won't be selling alcohol, too. The walk up Wembley Way will be a special one though and there will be mini-fan parks for each set of fans with bars and "street food" (sounds expensive but is posh pie and a pint no doubt).

In the stands
There's no doubt that we have some of the best fans in the country in terms of commitment to the cause, humour and ability to have a good time regardless of what's happening on the pitch. Anyone who, like me, was among the 40,000 fans who descended on Cardiff for our League One playoff win in 2005 will attest that, when the big days come, we're ready for it. 

It's been pretty grim reading the panicked social media posts and the, sometimes vicious, responses as fans tried to get tickets and, in some cases, were attacked over a lack of commitment. In truth I think everyone understands that most fans would love to see our beloved Owls every week were it not for family commitments, money and life getting in the way of supporting our team in the stands. Ironically social media has made it so much more fun to support Wednesday in recent years, providing easy access to the huge community of Owls fans. Thankfully in recent days the ticket vitriol  has switched to thoughts of the actual game and, judging by the excited social media posts, it's going to be a sea of blue and white. WAWAW. 

On the pitch 
Oh yeah, there's actual going to be a game. There's little doubt Hull have the quality - with players like Robert Snodgrass and Abel Hernandez - to do Wednesday damage and even their recent trips to Wembley (most recently in losing to Arsenal in the cup final in 2014) may even give them extra steel. But the Owls are riding a crest of a wave. The players and fans seem well aware that we've not been the third best team and we're ready to snatch our opportunity with cheek. 

Expect tight defences to play a big part, especially early on - the jitters seen in both teams' second legs will have left them in no doubt that more tough tackling in the midfield is needed. Further forward, these are often days for unlikely heroes. Who would've expected Drew Talbot to have gone down in S6 folklore a decade back? Perhaps this is the day for a sneaky goal from Keiran Lee or Daniel Pudil to decide things? 

On the touchline
Two very different managers will be stalking the Wembley technical areas. Often-animated Carlos Carvalhal has plenty of ego to him and, hopefully, will relish the big occasion. He's been in a final before, with Portugal's Leixoes, and also got them promoted. For his opposite number Steve Bruce, he's already been promoted as a manager via the play-offs, and his experience as a players with Manchester United puts points in the plus column. 

The prize

The figure being slapped on this 'richest game in the world' this year appears to be £200m. Psychologically it's worth much more to Wednesday. There's been a sense, more from others than Owls fans themselves, over the last 16 years that we belong in the top division. Whether or not that can really be true, let's hope they can prove that to be the case. 

Tuesday 3 May 2016

What next season could hold for Sheffield Wednesday, promoted or not

Saturday's win over Cardiff, securing our play-off place, felt like a real landmark in Wednesday's recent history. Attempting to predict the outcome of the play-offs, incessantly dubbed 'a lottery', is basically pointless, save to say a couple of excellent performances over Derby and Cardiff have put us in a strong position. So what can we expect next season, whether it's off the back of a Wembley victory or not?

The Premier League
If the dream comes true and we make it back after a 16-year absence, you can be sure that the pain of the near two decade absence will be enough to spur on a fight to stay up. I've lost count of the number of times well-meaning neutrals have told me the Owls 'should' be in the top tier or are a 'sleeping giant' since the Millennium. Owner and tuna king Dejphon Chansiri and manager Carlos Carvalhal have talked a great game - i.e. promotion this season would be a bonus, the target was always next year. But, Leicester City excepted, long-term goals from football club owners ("we'll be in Europe in four years!") are rarely worth anything. Not least as managers aren't given more than 12 games if results start to turn sour. 

So expect instant spending on deepening the squad, improvements to the ground (how long does it feel since the Great Scoreboard Investment debate?), in a year in which the Hillsborough disaster is again under the microscope, and more commercial deals. Will Chansiri attempt to further boost Wednesday's profile in Asia using his own business links? Moreover, after the bad blood at the start of the season over ticket prices, can we expect matchday admission prices to shoot up? The chance to offer top dollar for the visits of the Manchester clubs, Arsenal and even the Foxes will surely be too much to resist. 
Unlike Southampton and Coventry, we hadn't spent years beating the drop by the skin of our teeth. Just two years prior to relegation, a Carbone and Di Canio inspired side ended 7th in the league. If the Owls return to the big time, it will not be with the Big Gun status with which we left it. That said, a team containing Bannan, Lee and Forestieri are unlikely to start hoofing it and could play some attractive top-flight football. Emulating Bournemouth, Swansea and Watford is the goal. 

The Championship 
And so to the less appealing. Conventional wisdom would assume that, with Carlos' new contract signed and talk of promotion really being the target next season, we will build on this season, and potentially target automatic promotion. The top six finish and the feel good factor around the club should be enough to hang on to our most talented assets - Forestieri, Hooper, Westwood, Bannan - even if a lower-end Premier League team came calling, you'd hope. In recent years a cluster of sides including Watford, Derby and Middlesborough have bounced back from playoffs defeats to put in strong follow-up seasons. 

In the unlikely event of an implosion, or even a distinctly average season, Chansiri's next move will be fascinating. New to football ownership, how important is it that the memorabilia-wearing businessman's South Yorkshire asset shows instant progress? On the plus side, potential matches with Aston Villa, Sunderland and Newcastle United (and perhaps even locals Bradford or Barnsley) could provide some blockbuster crowds in S6 while the Blades continue to languish, failing to provide Steel City derbies. 

The squad 
The implications for every squad member of the next, potentially, three matches of their career are too multitudinous to go into. But there are some intriguing prospects. Given a full season, especially if we remain in the Championship, Marco Matias' latent attacking talent, especially combining with a maturing Lucas Joao, would be great to see. Meanwhile, a run in a Premier League team for the injury-prone and oft-suspended Sam Hutchinson would be great to see. His classy passing and assured style could be a real benefit if we're to do more than just scrap it out. 

The club 
For the club and community as a whole, promotion would be massive. The spiralling debts and ill feeling of the post relegation years were symptomatic of a team which didn't expect demotion. 

Unlike Southampton and Coventry, we hadn't spent years beating the drop by the skin of our teeth. Just two years prior to relegation, a Carbone and Di Canio inspired side ended 7th in the league. If the Owls return to the big time, it will not be with the Big Gun status with which we left it. That said, a team containing Bannan, Lee and Forestieri are unlikely to start hoofing it and could play some attractive top-flight football. Emulating Bournemouth, Swansea and Watford is the goal. 

Sunday 24 January 2016

Wednesday's Class of 93 v the Class of 2016

In dark January days there are few better things to do than make lists. Especially when it comes to nerdily analysing footy. As such, for a bit of fun, I thought I'd measure up Sheffield Wednesday's current first team with the 11 who took the field in the initial 1993 FA Cup final. Here’s who I’d put in the team, do you agree? Comment below.
Goalkeeper: Keiren Westwood - In comparing the Irish keeper – signed by us in July 2014 – with Chris Woods you realise how much the game has changed for the number 1. Both men are 6ft2in but Woods appeared a towering player commanding his area, holding on to the ball and thumping out goalkicks. Westwood, by contrast, is more agile, always scrambling up after plucking the ball from a crowd of legs and swiftly distributing it, even sweeping when he has to. In the final, Woods, a fine keeper, lost out to his England rival David Seaman and he would likely be beaten to the jersey by Ireland’s shotstopper in the modern game.
Right-back: And number one, was Roland Nilsson, and number two, was Roland Nilsson…
Centre-back: Viv Anderson CBE - captained the side (Carlton Palmer took on those duties in the replay) and a redoubtable presence at the back.
Centre-back: Glenn Loovens - The fact the Owls snapped up the cultured Dutchman, once valued at £2.5m by Celtic, on a free after plying his trade in Zaragoza is remarkable. He’s been rock solid over the last two seasons playing a big part in last season’s string of shut outs and helping command a defence which has had several keepers behind it in recent weeks. He outmuscles one of the Blue and White Wizards' most remarkable players – defender turned attacker Paul Warhurst – for a spot in the dream team.
Left-back: Nigel Worthington - The Northern Irishman (who was joined by countryman Danny Wilson in the replay) was a gangly force of nature down the wing. His modern-day peers: the talented Daniel Pudil and Joe Bennett should dig out the tapes.
Right-wing: Chris Waddle - That. Free. Kick.
Midfield: Fernando Forestieri - "Oh, Forestieeeeeri!" The little playmaker (born in Rosario, Argentina to Italian parents) is one of the most naturally talented players to have graced the Hillsborough turf in the 23 years since that hazy May final. His 11 goals in 21 appearances have provided impetus to an attack which, while prolific, has few reliable goalscorers. His deft touches, work rate and clinical passing make him the player most likely to have slotted into Trevor Francis’ flowing football. He outmuscles the USA’s finest, John Harkes, for the spot.
Midfield: Barry Bannan - A close call with both Carlton Palmer, who he replaces, and the smooth style of Keiran Lee, Bannan’s ability to tackle effectively and pick out a pass mean he’s got to be in. A Premier League quality player whose new contract is the best piece of business the Owls have done in the January window so far.
Left-wing: John Sheridan - He’d already proved himself at Wembley before that FA match, and remains a much-talked about Owls legend.
Striker: Mark Bright - Impossible not to like with that beaming smile and lethal boot. Although he was outjumped by Andy Linighan in the replay for the goal (despite doing his best to take him out with a sharp elbow) his header to get us there and consistent goalscoring between 1992 and 1996 make him hard to beat. Still has a soft spot for the Owls, as well as his beloved Palace. His reliability in front of goal puts the current crop – including João, Hooper and Nuhiu – deep in the shade.
Striker: David Hirst - His partnership with Bright was one to behold but the left foot of Hirsty couldn’t be overlooked. Arguably the best forward to ever pull on the blue and white it’s hard to see another striker ever reaching the level of adoration this Barnsley boy still commands in S6.
Manager: Carlos Carvalhal - For all Trevor Francis’ flair as a player and player-coach, Carlos Augusto Soares da Costa Faria Carvalhal feels a better manager. He’s had a chequered history with his staggering 14 previous clubs and was an unremarkable defender but has surprised in the way he’s quickly established a philosophy, rapport with the fans, a dominant persona on the touchline and handled setting a marker for a new era under new ownership with ease.
Full line-ups:
1993 - Chris Woods, Roland Nilsson, Viv Anderson, Paul Warhurst, Nigel Worthington, Chris Waddle, Carlton Palmer, John Sheridan, John Harkes, David Hirst, Mark Bright
2016 - Keiren Westwood, Vincent Sasso, Glenn Loovens, Jack Hunt, Daniel Pudil, Sam Hutchinson, Fernando Forestieri, Barry Bannan, Keiran Lee, Ross Wallace, Gary Hooper