Alan Biggs: Time to revise that '˜sneaking' prediction for Sheffield Wednesday
He makes his points firmly but always with good grace and usually with a smile '“ whereas some managers might growl and snarl. And the more some of us keep saying his team are not playing as well as last season the more they keep winning!
Maybe time to concede that the results prove Carlos Carvalhal right. Certainly in terms of effectiveness. Certainly in terms of the expectation of success they create.
Fluency and flair? The perception is there has not been as much in evidence this time. Sheffield Wednesday’s opponents have wised up, as previously discussed. Most games have been tight.
A few have been sterile for long periods. This has led to a series of what we like to call “pivotal games”, ones that seemingly have to be won. Invariably, Carlos’s Owls have responded in every case.
Remember the emphasis on home derbies with Barnsley and Rotherham following flattering draws with Preston and Wolves? Results: 2-0 and 1-0, albeit again with a touch of fortune.
And what then happened after the self-destruction of a 2-1 defeat at Brighton and an unsatisfactory draw at Bristol City? Cue three successive victories, including the 2-1 shading of Blackburn on Tuesday in another harum-scarum night at Hillsborough. This speaks of collective strength and resolve, besides the quality we know is there but isn’t always to the fore. Check out that Wednesday have lost only once in their last 11 games.
Factor in the depth of the squad and degree of choice.
All of which leads me, as a naturally cautious observer, to an uncharacteristically bold prediction. Revise squeezing into the top six. Replace it with finishing third or fourth. That’s what my instincts tell me .
For the first time this season, and at exactly the right time, you sense that Wednesday are on a roll. To such an extent that I couldn’t altogether discount top two on a gap whittled down to 10 points, although hitting the play-offs with momentum remains the realistic aim.
Yes, I know these are not convincing victories – but check out rival teams at the top and you will find every single one experiencing the same close margins, including Newcastle and Brighton.
You’d like to see Wednesday playing with more authority. They are surely capable of doing so. Except that every single game in the Championship has the potential to go either way, so closely matched are the teams. What will help swing things Wednesday’s way at the business end is injecting two high-scoring strikers in Jordan Rhodes and Sam Winnall. Plus the evolution in style they are hinting at bringing.
These are players whose first instincts are to get on the end of stuff in the area, pure and simple. Wednesday have had too little of that. As this column suggested he would, Carvalhal is clearly trying to fine-tune the approach accordingly. But without diluting the team ethic that has delivered 13 clean sheets.
Only possible prediction of Nottingham Forest away on Saturday: it will be close. But you suspect for the first time that Wednesday’s path to the season’s ultimate climax will not be.