Sheffield Wednesday are well clear of relegation trouble and one of the key factors behind their progress is the solid base boss Stuart Gray has built from the back this year.
Gray and his coaching staff have worked assiduously on Owls’ defensive structure and team shape at the club’s Middlewood Road training pitches.
It is not by good fortune that 12th-placed Wednesday boast one of the meanest defences in the division. The players have worked jolly hard to execute and carry out Gray’s instructions, which is why they remain just one clean sheet away from equalling a club-record 17 shut-outs in a league season.
Their defensive discipline has led to so many rival Championship managers remarking on how difficult Gray’s men are to break down.
But the Owls’ backline has recently started shipping in goals at an alarming rate. They have conceded nine in their last five outings, with individual lapses in concentration costing them dearly.
Injuries to key players, such as Liam Palmer and Glenn Loovens, has made life tougher for Wednesday and Kamil Zayatte’s continued fitness issues has also hindered Gray’s ability to field a settled defence. Zayatte is poised to be restored to centre-back against Charlton Athletic following Claude Dielna’s injury setback.
Now Gray is calling on his players to tighten things up defensively, starting at home to the Addicks.
“We have to defend better than what we did at Norwich,” he told The Star. “We have kept 16 clean sheets and that has been one of our big successes but we are just gifting teams goals at the moment.
“We are a team who have been tight and compact but both goals against Norwich were avoidable. If you don’t defend your 18-yard box well, you are going to concede goals. We didn’t get it right in either box. When we went a goal down, we probably needed a little more self belief that we could get back into it. To go in 2-0 behind at half-time was a sickener.”
Gray may choose to rotate his squad following the below-par performance and result in Norfolk on Bank Holiday Monday. Jose Semedo, Jeremy Helan and Will Keane could all be available for selection following injury lay-offs as Wednesday look to turnaround their wretched Hillsborough form.
Tickets are priced at £10 adults and £5 concessions and under-16s versus Charlton.
Leeds United, meanwhile, have been allocated 4,300 tickets for their clash at Wednesday on Saturday, April 25. The Elland Road club will fill the upper and lower tiers of the Leppings Lane end. On police advice, the derby has already been moved from a 3pm kick-off to a 12.30pm start.