Dom Howson's Sheffield Wednesday column: The midfielder the Owls have tried and failed to replace
Strength in depth is a big thing in modern football.
Teams, rightly or wrongly, constantly chop and change their starting elevens. It has largely become a squad game.
What the last four months at Hillsborough have highlighted is that Wednesday’s back up players are not good enough to take the club to where they want to go. Injuries have hit them hard in every department of the squad this season but the supporting cast have lacked the quality and consistency to reverse the Owls’ fortunes.
Without Sam Hutchinson, Barry Bannan and Kieran Lee in midfield, Wednesday struggled in their heavy defeat to Queens Park Rangers on Tuesday night. It should be stressed that it was not just in the middle of the park where the Owls were overwhelmed in the capital. It was all over the pitch in a dire opening quarter of an hour which cost them the points.
But Jos Luhukay’s makeshift back four were given little protection early on and QPR ran riot, ripping them apart down the flanks.
Central midfield is a key part of any side. Although Wednesday are strong in terms of numbers in that position, it is actually an area where they look weak.
Nearly two years ago, Alex Lopez played his part in the Owls side who secured a top-six finish and qualified for the Championship Play-Off Final. The Spaniard was a reliable performer and filled in when Hutchinson was unavailable for selection. He was an intelligent operator and his defensive discipline gave Lee the licence to bomb forward and support the attack.
Did Lopez play well every match? No, but he understood his role and was a good, solid squad player. He gave the midfield balance and was efficient on the ball. His pass success rate was 85.5 per cent in his 27 appearances.
Not only was Lopez popular with his teammates, he also had a great attitude. He didn’t kick up a fuss if he was left out of the side. Instead, Lopez knuckled down in training and focused on improving his own game. He was a good pro.
After completing his season long-loan spell, Lopez returned to Spain. The 30-year-old spent time at Valladolid before linking up with Sporting de Gijón last August.
Wednesday, meanwhile, turned their attentions elsewhere, opting to spend big on Almen Abdi and David Jones. Neither Abdi or Jones have excelled and Jacob Butterfield has also failed to impress this time around. The jury is still out on whether Joey Pelupessy will prove an astute addition.
If Wednesday are to be competing in the upper echelons of the division next season, I think they need better midfield options. Bringing in someone who could give them a physical presence and aerial power would not go amiss.