Alan Biggs: Hard work really paying off at Sheffield Wednesday

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Hard work by footballers is such a minimum requirement that I’m always loathe to laud it. But the rare exception this column made for Atdhe Nuhiu a few weeks ago is spreading to embody Sheffield Wednesday as a whole.

When you hear a comparison with the sort of intensity of effort put in by the team of the Howard Wilkinson era, you tend to put your scruples aside. Especially when it’s made by one of his old players.

Fittingly, ahead of a Yorkshire derby at Leeds, it came from John Pearson, a former Wednesday striker who also played under Wilkinson at Elland Road.

Wilko’s Wednesday, promotion winners and top flight achievers of the mid-1980s, was a formidable unit underpinned by fitness and fight.

It went further than the sum of its parts and, having reported those days, I’d have to agree with Pearson’s assessment on a certain similarity.

“I’d compare this team with Wilko’s for work ethic,” John told me after the midweek 1-1 draw with Ipswich. Moments later I was walking to the car park with another member of that 80s side, Mark Smith, who said: “Yeah, that’s what stood out for me too.”

The quality, of course, is some way short in relative terms, allowing that the Championship is more competitive and well stocked than the second tier Wednesday escaped in that period.

You still can’t shake the feeling that Stuart Gray’s team are punching a little above their weight without a choice addition or two. Certainly, there is a lack of match winning quality in the final third, as evidenced on Tuesday when the Owls, albeit unlucky with a couple of disallowed goals and the suspect manner of Ipswich’s equaliser, just failed to to see off one of the better sides at this level.

But there was a sense of togetherness, purpose, commitment and belief that can be sustained.

Above all, I have never seen two Wednesday forwards put in more running and cover more distance than Nuhiu and Stevie May. They went the extra mile - literally.

In May’s case, you’d still be looking for more quality from an £800,000 striker while Nuhiu, impressive headed goal apart (and these need to become his bread and butter), can misplace his effort at times when you feel he should be in the box.

However, their output in yards in covering the width of the pitch was prodigious. I’d love to see the ProZone stats. Gray must be purring over them.

And if Nuhiu wasn’t the mystery subject of a rejected bid running into millions last summer then who was? “A proper handful in this league,” was the way Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy described him.

But then I think Nuhiu’s example (from which a comparatively static Gary Madine can learn) is being followed front to back by Wednesday right now.

And they’ll need it at Elland Road where the personnel has changed dramatically from January but the fans remember only too well: Sheffield Wednesday 6 Leeds United 0!