How Luhukay is changing Sheffield Wednesday for the better: Owls 0 Cardiff City 0
It is impossible not to be impressed with the work Jos Luhukay has done in trying circumstances at Hillsborough.
When the genial Dutchman took over a little over a fortnight ago, the Owls were a club in crisis. They had kicked off the New Year with a humiliating home defeat to Burton Albion. Their defence was all over the place and key players were missing through injury. The team looked genuine relegation candidates.
But no longer are Wednesday a soft touch. No longer are Wednesday easy to play against. No longer are Wednesday giving away cheap goals.
Luhukay, little known in this country, has instilled discipline, organisation and steadied the ship.
Although the injury situation has hardly improved, Luhukay has done well with the tools he has available.
The 54-year-old, a three-time promotion winner in Germany, had a reputation for making teams difficult to break down. Several respected commentators claimed Luhukay prided himself on clean sheets and he has certainly tightened up the Owls’ leaky reguard.
Luhukay has switched them to a three-man defence and overseen three shutouts in the space of nine days. Wednesday have gone back to basics.
Luhukay has laid a solid foundation and shown he is not afraid to blood youngsters. He handed Jordan Thorniley his debut in Saturday’s draw with promotion hopefuls Cardiff City. After a nervy start in front of the TV cameras, Thorniley grew in stature and put in an assured display. He was solid, just like the rest of the side.
Luhukay said: “Jordan played well. He did what he had to do playing for the first time in the Championship.”
Eleven senior players sat-out the Bluebirds contest through injury and suspension but it is refreshing, nonetheless, to see Luhukay give the next generation an opportunity to prove their worth. He has already given game time to Thorniley, Frederik Nielsen, Connor O’Grady and Sean Clare.
All that let the Owls down on Saturday tea-time was their finishing. Cardiff controlled the first half for long periods but the hosts had the better chances.
After Joe Wildsmith, another academy starlet, kept out efforts from Kenneth Zohore, Yanic Wildschut and Marko Grujić, Jordan Rhodes fluffed two great opportunities to put Wednesday ahead.
The Owls’ record signing headed over from six yards David Jones’ exquisite free- kick. Rhodes, averaging a goal in every five matches since moving to S6 in an £8 million deal from Middlesbrough last year, could have made amends before the interval when he latched on to Lucas Joao’s deft reverse pass but Neil Etheridge dived to his right to keep out the right-foot strike. Adam Reach lashed over the follow up.
Rhodes is desperately short on confidence and you are beginning to wonder if it will ever happen for him at Wednesday. He gets himself into good positions but his composure in the final third continues to desert him.
Both Rhodes and strike partner Joao passed up two golden scoring chances. Rhodes slipped in the Portugal international for his first sight at goal but he dragged wide. He then headed straight at Etheridge from close range after a fine cross by Rhodes from the right.
A goal would have capped off a good individual performance by Joao. He was a real handful for Cardiff’s defence with his pace and trickery.
“We were better in the second half, we were unlucky we didn’t score,” said Joao.
There was not a huge amount of quality on show from either team but Bluebirds boss Neil Warnock couldn’t resist taking a cheeky swipe at Wednesday.
Warnock, a boyhood Blade and a former Sheffield United manager, said: “Wednesday had good chances, but you would have thought we were the home side the way they looked to get us on the counter-attack.
“They set up exactly how we thought. The only difference is that they’re a bit tighter at the back, but I can’t see them scoring many goals. But I suppose 18 more 0-0 draws will be all right for them. I think we can get better.”
It was an encouraging result in Luhukay’s first home league match in charge but the Owls are struggling to score goals. Not since Boxing Day have Wednesday scored in the Championship. Dry January goes on.
Yet a point against third-placed Cardiff should not be sniffed at. The signs are positive that they are getting things right under Luhukay.