Dom Howson column: A strong defence will take a team only so far

In-form Owls goalkeeper Keiren Westwood.
In-form Owls goalkeeper Keiren Westwood.
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Attacking teams win matches. A good defence wins championships.

Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson says this virtually every Saturday afternoon on Soccer Saturday. Well, in that case, Wednesday will be challenging for the Championship title come next May. If only football was that straightforward!

The Owls have shipped in 11 league goals so far. Only Luton Town and Plymouth Argyle have conceded fewer in the Football League.

“Keeping clean sheets gives you a real chance to win matches,” said Plymouth boss John Sheridan, who scored the winner for Wednesday in their memorable triumph over Manchester United in the 1991 League Cup final.

“You can see our desire to keep the ball out of the net. It’s such a fantastic habit to have.

“It’s not just the defenders and goalkeepers that deserve the credit for our record. We defend from the front; it’s what we instil in the side, and the forward players deserve to be recognised too. We may not be scoring the number of goals that people may sit up and take notice but everyone has a part to play.

Without parking the bus, Wednesday have built solid foundations this season. Manchester City - in the second half of their Capital One Cup tie - and Watford tore them apart but they have been competitive in all their other fixtures.

Seven clean sheets in 14 league outings is a record the Owls should be proud of and head coach Stuart Gray and his coaching staff should, rightly, take a lot of plaudits for shoring things up at the back. They have worked hard at their Middlewood Road training ground on shape and defending as a unit.

Consistency in selection has also undoubtedly benefited the backline. Goalkeeper Keiren Westwood and right-back Liam Palmer have started every league match while Glenn Loovens, Tom Lees and Joe Mattock have only missed a handful of matches between them.

Despite a string of impressive defensive displays, Wednesday are still looking to solve their goal shortage. Strikers Atdhe Nuhiu, Stevie May and Gary Taylor-Fletcher fed on scraps in the second half against Norwich as the supply line dried up.

A promotion challenge looks beyond them until Gray adds extra creativity to midfield and coaxes more goals out of the rest of the team.