Dom Howson's Sheffield Wednesday column: Where the Owls must improve if they are to be successful next season

When he took over an injury-hit team low on confidence at the beginning of January, it was clear what Jos Luhukay tried to fix in the short-term.

Thursday, 5th April 2018, 5:00 pm
Defender Joost van Aken

He focused on tightening up the defence, making Wednesday tougher to play against and break down.

Their extra work on the training ground initially paid off as the Owls kept three clean sheets on the bounce versus promotion-chasing Sheffield United, Cardiff City and Middlesbrough.

But since then Wednesday have found shut outs harder to come by, recording only two in their last 13 outings. In fact, the Owls have gone 810 minutes without keeping a clean sheet in all competitions, a run stretching back to February 17.

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So what has changed over the last two months?

For a start, the personnel. Injuries have hampered Luhukay throughout his time in charge and prevented him from fielding a settled team.

If it has not been Daniel Pudil picking up a knock, it has been Jack Hunt. If it has not been Keiren Westwood out injured for a lengthy period, it has been Joost van Aken. It has been one thing after another.

While Luhukay has frequently had to alter his starting line-up and rotate a weakened side to combat a hectic fixture list, there have been occasions where he has set up the team far too conservatively and put unnecessary pressure on himself. I still find it baffling that he didn’t start with a striker at Millwall. They had no outlet up front which allowed the Lions to dominate the ball and put their makeshift defence under the cosh.

Errors have also collectively and individually crept into Wednesday’s game and opponents have exploited their defensive frailties. Players have switched off at vital moments and stopped doing their jobs properly.

The fact of the matter is that the Owls have defensively gone backwards and been nowhere near as efficient this season.

In Carlos Carvalhal’s first two seasons at the helm, the Owls boasted one of the best defensive records in the division. Wednesday accumulated 17 league clean sheets in the 2015/16 campaign and 16 last term. So far this time around the Owls have managed just nine with six fixtures left to play.

It’s no coincidence clubs such as Wolverhampton Wanderers, Cardiff City, Derby County and Aston Villa are all competing in the upper echelons of the league, having racked up 16 plus clean sheets this season.

“Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles,” said former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

If Wednesday are to be successful next year, it is imperative Luhukay’s troops tighten up as a collective unit and are strong at the back.