Sheffield Wednesday: How Carlos Carvalhal turned Hillsborough into a fortress
You have to take your hat off to Carlos Carvalhal for bringing the fear factor back to Hillsorough.
Under his leadership, Wednesday’s home results have been mightily impressive.
Forty seven of the 74 points the Owls accrued last season came on their own turf. Carvalhal got the place rocking again. Opponents felt the full force of ‘the power of Hillsborough’.
“Home form is the mainstay of most teams; if you can get good home form you will do well,” says Wednesday defender Tom Lees. There’s no arguing that it laid the foundation for their promotion charge.
Particularly towards the end of the campaign, the fans flocked to S6 in their numbers. They created a wall of noise. Charlton Athletic, Cardiff City and Brighton and Hove Albion were all blown away by the division’s great entertainers.
Supporters cranked up the volume big style in the first leg of their Play-Off semi-final triumph over the Seagulls, with Lees describing it as the best atmosphere he had played in by a “country mile.
“It was absolutely unreal,” he said. “A few of the lads were saying afterwards when all the lights went on on the fans’ phones all around the stadium, it gave us goosebumps.
“At one point when one side was bouncing, I could see on the pitch that the floodlights were actually moving. I thought: Jesus, the stand’s going to come down in a minute!’
“That shows how much noise and how much passion there was.”
Wednesday’s aggressive, attractive brand of football wowed fans and helped Carvalhal silence his critics.
“The most important thing is that our fans come to all our games and enjoy the football that we are playing,” he said. “We have achieved that 100 per cent.
“I think our fans are happy about that. We have played with quality and won games.
“The team is very balanced, scores a lot of goals and we equalled the defensive record.
“Our players have enjoyed the way we play. We have improved the players.”
Supporters got full value for money as only Hull City scored more home goals than Carvalhal’s side.
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Can Hillsborough be their fortress once again this season? It won’t be easy.
Teams will be acutely aware of the damage Wednesday’s flair players can cause so expect Barry Bannan and Fernando Forestieri to be given less time and space to weave their magic.
Teams will sit back and show Wednesday more respect. Teams will probably pack the midfield, defend in numbers and park the bus and the onus will be on Wednesday to break them down. Patience may be required in wearing visiting teams down.
You can bank on Carvalhal, a good tactician and student of the game, formulating a plan to counter opponents conservative systems and lack of adventure. As he showed to good effect last year, Carvalhal is more than happy to use all of his squad and regularly rotate players to keep them fresh for a long campaign.
“It is very easy for me (to rotate) and the players understand, “ he said. “Not every team has the same characteristics.
“We are here to try and manage everything and if the first plan isn’t working and we aren’t playing as we expect then we must change things. You have to have a Plan B, C and D.”
It is conceivable that some teams will deploy a man-to-man marker to pay close attention to Forestieri. He is the Owls’ main attacking weapon and likes to drop deep to link their midfield and attack.
The statistics suggest Forestieri relishes playing in front of the Hillsborough crowd. Eleven of his 15 goals in Wednesday colours have come at home. He is instrumental in how the Owls play so teams will attempt to cut off the supply line to him.
Defenders will do everything in their power, by any means necessary, to nullify Forestieri’s influence. We saw it on countless occasions last year where Forestieri came in for rough treatment. Defenders will try to head, kick and clatter him out of the game.
Steven Fletcher’s arrival eases the burden on Forestieri. He is a welcome addition to the Owls’ forward line and will give them something different when Forestieri is having an off day or a quiet match. If Fletcher gets good quality service, he will bring goals and give them an extra cutting edge.
The fact that Wednesday have broken their season ticket sales record for this season shows that there remains a big buzz and feelgood factor around S6.
Carvalhal has repeatedly called on the fans to create a positive environment on home soil. They continue to hold up their end of the bargain and it will be up to the players to force the issue once again when they entertain newly-relegated Aston Villa on the opening weekend come August 7.