Alan Biggs's Sheffield Wednesday column: Manager Luhukay shows his trust in Matt Penney
Preaching attack as the best form of defence; some turnaround from a supposedly defensive coach. And even if Sheffield Wednesday's fortunes had gone south as a result, Jos Luhukay could not have been blamed by this column, which advocated playing to his strengths from the off this season.
Now he’s telling a young left back to get forward more and give free rein to an explosive quality few had recognised going into the midweek game at Nottingham Forest, played after this went to press.
Barry Bannan’s sublime free-kick wasn’t the only moment that brought the crowd to its feet at Hillsborough last Saturday. Besides, we all know what Wednesday’s “little magician” (as the opposition manager dubbed him) can do and there were many who “saw” the ball in the net before it was caressed.
What very few could foresee was the electrifying run made by Matt Penney a few minutes before the Bannan beauty that completed the comeback for a 2-2 draw with Stoke.
Penney surged from deep in his own half, played a one-two in a deft lay-off by Atdhe Nuhiu, and finished with a fierce angled strike that demanded a good save.
In a flash we saw an exciting new dimension to a 20-year-old who had already excelled in his bread-and-butter defensive work since being introduced to the team early this season.
“From his quality he can do it more, I think,” Luhukay told me.
And what a difference it can make to a team or a match. Wednesday were under the cosh at the time as Stoke missed chances. Suddenly the visitors were on the back foot and the crowd on their feet.
It’s what can happen when a player has a dynamic and Penney looks a real athlete. That instant reminded me of how Jermaine Johnson could change the course of a game – and often did – with a run from deep.
Certainly, it’s a newly-discovered and important addition to the armoury of a side not over-blessed with pace (as a jet-heeled Stoke reminded us) – plus an echo of what the departed Jack Hunt used to bring to the other flank.
Unwittingly Luhukay used an appropriate analogy when he reflected on how Penney had come from “far away” to establish himself in the team. “He can progress every game now.”
With the compact and robust Jordan Thorniley operating ever tidily, it’s arguable that the two most impressive members of the back four this season have been the youngest.
Unlike Thorniley, who made 17 starts on loan at Accrington Stanley last season, Penney had relatively little practical preparation for being thrown in – a mere total of three substitute appearances during loans at Bradford City and Mansfield.
What he will have gained is something of an education in sampling the hugely contrasting methods and style of the then managers in those two places, Stuart McCall and Steve Evans.
Now, in Luhukay, he is working with one who fully trusts him and with every justification.