A classic sporting cliché that too often gets trotted out is ‘if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best’.
If that statement is true, Sheffield Wednesday have so far fallen short against the best that the Championship has got to offer.
Carlos Carvalhal’s troops have faced six out of the division’s top-10 sides. Their record reads: Loss. Draw. Loss. Loss. Draw. Draw.
Three of the top four have played the Owls at Hillsborough. While Middlesbrough outclassed them, they fought hard and matched Brighton and Hove Albion and Hull City well.
On the road, Wednesday slipped up at Portman Road for the second year on the spin while the Roses battle with Burnley could have been so different had they been more ruthless in the final third.
But the cold hard facts are that the Owls will struggle to gatecrash the play-offs unless they start beating some of the teams in and around them. Relying purely on results against the bottom half sides is not a successful formula.
There is plenty of room for improvement as Wednesday prepare to take on another of the major promotion contenders Derby County.
The Rams have been a real bogey team for the Owls over the last decade. They have not lost any of the last 14 meetings and will be strong favourites to pick up maximum points.
Derby are also in outstanding form, having won 10 out of their last 13 matches. Bradley Johnson, who bagged a brace against Wednesday last April while on Norwich City’s books, is available for selection again following suspension and the Rams will have had over a week to prepare for this TV date.
Everything looks stacked in Derby’s favour so how can the Owls upset the odds?
Some how Wednesday, who look set to be without instrumental centre-half Tom Lees on Sunday, have got to tighten up defensively and cut out the individual lapses in concentration which are costing them dearly. They have shipped in eight goals in their last four outings, looking particularly vulnerable from set plays. You can bet your bottom dollar that Derby will be looking to exploit that weakness so the Owls have to be organised and stand up to that threat.
If the Owls managed to end their nine-year hoodoo, it would be a big statement of intent and set them up perfectly for the rest of the season.