Sheffield Wednesday: Owls face tough test

Lewis Buxton is back in contention after a knee injury. Picture: : Lynne Cameron/PA Wire.
Lewis Buxton is back in contention after a knee injury. Picture: : Lynne Cameron/PA Wire.
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Sheffield Wednesday boss Stuart Gray believes their friendly with Russian top flight side FC Arsenal Tula will be a good test ahead of the new Championship season.

Gray’s troops face Tula in their third warm up match of the summer tonight looking to build on their victories over York City and Bury.

The Owls originally arranged to play Serbian SuperLiga outfit FK Cukaricki as part of their five-day pre-season training camp in Slovenia. But FK Cukaricki’s involvement in the Europa League meant they had to pull out of the match and Tula are now the opposition.

Tonight’s friendly takes place at the Ptuj City Stadium, close to the Owls’ training base in Maribor, with a 5pm GMT kick off.

Tula have enjoyed a remarkable rise up the Russian leagues, winning three consecutive promotions. Their season is set to kick off a week before Wednesday’s opening fixture with Brighton and Hove Albion on August 9.

Russian top flight newcomers Tula face a daunting start to their domestic season, with a trip to Champions League qualifiers Zenit St Petersburg on the opening day followed by a meeting with Europa League side Lokomotiv Moscow.

Gray told The Star: “I don’t know masses about them but what I do know is that foreign teams keep the ball well and have you chasing. If they do that to us in Slovenia, we know it’s going to be a good fitness exercise.

“We are going to have a lot of chasing and closing down of players to do.

“We will respect Tula but hopefully we will give a good account of ourselves.”

Tula’s training pitch is in close proximity to Wednesday’s facility - an adjacent field that overlooks Tula’s base in Maribor. Gray has warned his side to expect a physical encounter.

“We have watched them [Tula] in training and saw them play a game earlier in the week and they will be a handful,” he added.

The Wednesday chief said the squad is looking sharp following double sessions a day at their warm weather training base.

As he continues to try and strengthen his squad, Gray is poised to give run-outs to two unnamed foreign trialists against Tula. One is thought to be a centre-back, the other is a player who can play in the wide positions or up front.

“The trialists will probably feature versus Tula,” said Gray. “It is a good opportunity for me to see them close up and have a look.”

Ideally, Gray wants to complete some transfer activity before they return to England tomorrow. Wednesday have agreed a transfer fee for Istres midfielder Florian Tardieu but are waiting for the Football League to ratify Hafiz Mammadov’s takeover of the club before concluding the deal.

Gray, who has also held talks with St Etienne over striker Brandao, said: “I will only bring players into the football club who I think are better than the ones we’ve already got. At this moment in time, we have our eye on several players.”

Lewis Buxton is in contention to play against Tula, having resumed full training following a knee problem. Gray said the experienced right-back was training in the gym last week as part of his rehabilitation work.

Caolan Lavery remains an injury doubt after hurting his knee versus Bury.

“He opened up his knee a little bit; his studs just got caught in the ground,” said Gray. “When he stays down, I know there is something wrong with him. Tula might be a little too early for Lavs.”

* Owls Performance Director Andy Kalinins has claimed Atdhe Nuhiu is reaping the rewards of enjoying his first-ever full pre-season at Sheffield Wednesday.

The former Austrian Under-21 international joined the Owls on a free transfer late July last year, penning a three-year contract. It took the lanky striker a while to improve his fitness levels and get up to match speed.

Standing at 6ft 6ins tall, Nuhiu also had to adjust to the rigours of Championship football, having previously plied his trade in other European leagues. Ultimately, the 24-year-old bagged eight goals in his maiden season with Wednesday, including four goals in their final five fixtures.

Nuhiu opened his account in pre-season last week, heading in the team’s second goal in the 3-1 friendly success over League Two Bury.

Kalinins told The Star: “Attey has learned what it takes to play in English football. The Championship is very hard with the amount of games you have to play. It’s different from any other league you have to play in the world.

“Attey went away over the summer with an individual fitness training programme. I think he lost four kilograms in weight. He looks leaner.

“There is no reason why Attey can’t do well as long as he has a good pre-season and follows the technical programme Stuart Gray has put in place for him.”