Attacking, aggressive, entertaining football.
The three pillars of Sheffield Wednesday’s new era.
Thousands of Wednesdayites headed to Hillsborough on Saturday full of hope and expectation following a big summer of change on and off the field. Starved of goals and memorable matches in their own backyard last season, they expected better this time around.
Carlos Carvalhal’s men delivered.
As opening-day outings go, this was nearly as good as it gets.
As Carvalhal pointed out, the Owls produced a professional, hard-working performance to send the club’s supporters home in high spirits.
If I’m going to nitpick over something, the margin of Wednesday’s victory could have been even more emphatic had they shown a little more composure in the final third. Alex Lopez and Marco Matias were guilty of two poor misses either side of half-time.
But Carvalhal was a happy man at the final whistle and will have enjoyed his glass of wine after going some way to silencing his critics.
What the ex-Sporting Lisbon and Besiktas boss has cleverily done is not mess with the spine of Wednesday’s team. Keiren Westwood, Tom Lees, Glenn Loovens, Lewis McGugan and Atdhe Nuhiu all featured prominently in their 13th-placed finish last May, helping them keep 17 Championship shut-outs. He knew what he would get from those five experienced individuals.
Make no mistake, Bristol City are no mugs. They ran away with the League One title and claimed the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy last season. They had plenty of momentum behind them.
Lining up in their favoured 3-5-2 formation, Steve Cotterill’s side set up to try to contain the hosts’ attacking flair. They showed little ambition throughout and lacked a cutting edge. Aside from having to gather a couple of dangerous crosses, Westwood was barely called into action.
By contrast, Wednesday played some crowd-pleasing stuff. We had Nuhiu nut-megging Derrick Williams, Jack Hunt bombing forward at every available opportunity on the right wing, Ross Wallace whipping crosses in with either foot and Matias buzzing around on the opposite flank. Given a licence to express themselves, Wednesday, featuring five debutants, excelled.
Their stand-out performer was Lopez. The little Spanish midfielder, on a season long-loan deal from Celta Vigo, gave a midfield masterclass, stroking the ball around with authority and class.
His pass success rate was 91%, including two fine through-balls which sent Matias and Wallace scampering away in the first period.
Lopez really should have capped a superb debut with a goal but, following a counter-attack led by Nuhiu, saw his shot deflected over.
He made amends after the break, supplying the corner for Tom Lees to nod in the opener on the hour mark. Frank Fielding got fingertips to the centre-back’s header but couldn’t keep it out. It was Lees’ first goal since August 2012.
“People were talking to me about adding goals to my game,” said Lees.
“I’ve been working on that all week, attacking balls into the box, and thankfully one went in for me.”
The key moment came in the 70th minute when McGugan cleared Wes Burns’ header off the line. Robins manager Cotterill claimed that had that chance gone in his team could have gone on to take maximum points.
Wednesday broke quickly, with Helan feeding Wallace, who floated in a lovely cross to the back post which McGugan coolly slotted home, having run the length of the field to finish off the move.
McGugan said: “I got the clearance, and then it was just a case of support Jez (Helen) and make as many numbers up the other end as possible.
“I was shouting for Jez to give it to me, but he put it out to Ross and I just continued the run. Luckily enough, Ross put a great ball in and I tucked it away. It was a good way to finish.”
Carvalhal hopes that will be the first of many goals for the midfield playmaker this season.
“I don’t like to talk too much about individual players but of course I am happy for Lewis,” he said. “He has got qualities.
“We have told him he can score more goals and give another step and we are working hard to help him become a more complete player. I believe Lewis will get better in the future.”
Another thing which satisfied Carvalhal was the manner in which Wednesday saw out the contest.
“When we went 2-0 up, we closed the doors and windows very well,” said Carvalhal. “We didn’t want to let any light inside our house. We closed everything.”
As Carvalhal was keen to stress, it is only one victory. “A little step in a long marathon,” he added. But it was a promising start and gives them a solid platform to build on.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood 7; Hunt 8 (Palmer 90) Loovens 7, Lees 7, Helan 7; Hutchinson 7, Lopez 8; Matias 7, McGugan 7, Wallace 7 (Lee 83); Nuhiu 7 (Joao 77). Subs not used: Wildsmith, Sasso, Lavery, Semedo.
Bristol City: Fielding 7; Ayling 6, Flint 6, Williams 6; Fredericks 6 (Agard 80), Smith 6, Freeman 6, Pack 6, Bryan 6 (Burns 36, 6); Wilbraham 5, Kodjia 5 (Robinson 69, 6). Subs not used: O’Leary, El-Abd, Wagstaff, Reid.
Referee: James Adcock (Nottinghamshire).