Let’s be honest, Wednesdayites were spoilt rotten last year.
The team’s aggressive, stylish possession-based football saw them earn plenty of plaudits. Their swashbuckling play wowed the punters and took them to the brink of promotion.
But the truth is the Owls came up short at the final hurdle.
The emphasis and priority has appeared, this time around, to be more on substance over style.
To paraphrase Carlos Carvalhal, Wednesday have done a great job of “closing the windows and doors to their house”. The Championship outfit have racked up an outstanding 13 shut outs in 30 matches and are on course to surpass the club record, which stands at 17. The Owls haven’t conceded a home goal since December 3.
Yet head coach Carvalhal wholeheartedly disagrees with the assertion that Wednesday have been less attractive and played at a slower tempo.
We are more realistic this season compared to last season. I don’t agree that we don’t play the same football as last season. I don’t agree.Carlos Carvalhal
He has hit back at their critics, pointing to the side’s fine away wins at Huddersfield Town and Newcastle United. Carvalhal also felt they deserved more from trips to Derby County and Brighton and Hove Albion.
Speaking after Friday night’s 3-0 win over Birmingham City, Carvalhal said: “I didn’t see Middlesbrough, Burnley and Hull doing fantastic performances all of last season.
“If you ask me if I want us to play fantastic football from the first minute to last, everybody wants that but this competition is not like that.
“Sometimes you play well and open your team and concede a goal and then it can be a problem.
“We are more realistic this season compared to last season. I don’t agree that we don’t play the same football as last season. I don’t agree.
“What we are doing is understanding the competition better and achieving points at the moment where last season we would play well and lose games.”
As the Portuguese chief rightly stated, the Owls slipped up and dropped valuable points against Bolton Wanderers, MK Dons and Charlton Athletic last year.
Carvalhal cited their recent win against Wigan Athletic, who are battling to retain their second-tier status, as an example of the team learning from past experiences. The key, according to Carvalhal, is that Wednesday are playing smarter.
Birmingham didn’t deserve to lose by a three goal margin on Friday but Wednesday were ruthlessly efficient at the end of both halves. Their superior clinical edge made the difference.
He insisted: “We are performing at a high level. If we must defend, we defend. If we attack, we go to attack.
“If we must put people up in the last five minutes to win the game, we go to win the game. We have achieved a lot of points and goals in the last few minutes of matches this season. We understand the competition better and are being more realistic.”
Carvalhal felt the final scoreline flattered his team and few people would disagree with that assessment. Birmingham hit the woodwork three times and the hosts rode their luck on occasions.
But Carvalhal believes his players have improved their decision-making and game management. Wednesday stayed compact and resolute when the Blues pushed hard for an equaliser and then made them pay on the counter attack through Sam Winnall and Adam Reach.
“I teach my players to learn the game,” said Carvalhal. “The game is 90 minutes long and there are a lot of little stories in the game.
“There was a period where we played very good football and achieved one goal but credit Birmingham has they started to create problems to us. When a team is losing, they take more risks as they’ve got nothing to lose. They take more chances. It is normal in football and we have to be ready for that.
“The players, at that moment, decided to close the team, not give a goal away and wait for our moment. We waited for our moment and achieved the second goal. Credit my players because they understood everything we wanted.”
Reach’s introduction gave Wednesday a more solid look and there was a better shape to them. He replaced Fernando Forestieri midway through the second half.
Carvalhal said: “Fernando did well. He ran around a lot for 67 minutes. We decided to be more solid at that moment and we achieved more goals.
“When we put the team solid, we can achieve goals. It is not just a case of opening the team to achieve goals.
“If you are more solid and compact, you can achieve goals also and that’s what happened when Reach came on.”
Forestieri cut a frustrated figure when he was subbed off. The Argentine-born player, who was shunted to the left wing to accommodate Winnall and Jordan Rhodes, trudged slowly off the pitch and vented his disappointment to the Owls’ coaching staff.
When quizzed on Forestieri’s reaction, Carvalhal said: “Have you ever seen a player in the world who is happy when they have been substituted?
“When I played, if the coach substituted me, then of course I was not happy. If my players are happy when they come off, I would be worried. It is not a problem.”
As Carvalhal stated, the Owls are in a good place following back-to-back victories. Although Newcastle United, Brighton and Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town all picked up maximum points over the weekend, Reading, Leeds United and Derby County slipped up.
You can sense the momentum is building at S6 and scoring three goals without reply will have done wonders for the team’s confidence.
It was a great way for the team to silence some of their doubters.