Alan Biggs: It's not all about goals...look to the back for Sheffield Wednesday's key men
All the talk has been about creativity and scoring enough goals. And rightly still is, despite an imperative first win in five games, achieved with a bare minimum performance at doomed Rotherham.
But the fact is Sheffield Wednesday are again masters of their play-off ambitions.
And that highlights how much is owed to their defence.
This is one of two planks they can absolutely rely on in a six-match race to the line.
The other is that four of those games are at Hillsborough where strong support, regardless of the mood distortions of social media, is guaranteed in both quality and numbers going into Saturday’s glittering visit of Newcastle.
Fernando Forestieri might be back as well and you can’t over-emphasise the effect of his mercurial presence at this crucial stage of the campaign.
But if Wednesday are to drag themselves over the line it will be largely because one part of the side, relatively taken for granted, has performed consistently throughout the season.
A defence has to be doing its job if, after 40 matches, it underpins a team that has scored only 51 goals and is still placed sixth.
Only the top two of Newcastle and Brighton, plus Leeds United and Aston Villa, have conceded fewer than Wednesday’s 40 so far.
That Tuesday’s shut out in the 2-0 grind at Rotherham was a first clean sheet in ten matches also hides how good a job the rearguard – three players in particular – have consistently done.
I refer to centre backs Glenn Loovens and Tom Lees, and, of course, goalkeeper Keiren Westwood.
They are automatic selections and, as Lees’ recent absence proved, as vital to keep fit, and probably more so, than any of the expensively acquired star names who, for reasons of team chemistry, still owe a much bigger payback.
Yes, you defend from the front and it’s a team thing. But to have conceded just one goal amid much pressure during two away derbies, yielding the satisfactory four-point return this column suggested, speaks loudly again for the back line.
It can be pretty well relied upon to keep Wednesday’s body and soul together for the duration.
Can the rest of the team find enough inspiration to go with it? Well, it should have the capacity to do so and Steven Fletcher’s two midweek goals, especially the second, were a welcome glimpse of a untapped potential.
Not playing fluently? Well, look at Fulham, beaten again in midweek, and Leeds losing for the second time in four days.
Only Reading and chasers Preston are in form right now, again outside of the top two.
Which brings us to: Can Wednesday beat Newcastle? Again?
Who’s to say they can’t after that stunning Boxing Day win at St. James’ Park? And who’s to say they can’t make the play-offs whatever the result?
It’s that sort of league, folks. But do trust that defence to go the distance.