Sheffield Wednesday: Jos Luhukay targets defensive improvement after '˜weak' showing against QPR
As the end of a miserable 2017/18 season looms ever closer, Wednesday's defensive frailties have left Jos Luhukay feeling agitated and frustrated.
The Owls boss refused to pull any punches during a frank pre-match press conference today.
Luhukay was serious and straight to the point, accusing his players of being “too weak” and “too passive” as a defensive unit in the midweek humbling at Queens Park Rangers.
Wednesday, languishing in 17th position with four matches remaining, have gone almost two months without keeping a clean sheet. Their last shut-out came 12 matches ago against Carlos Carvalhal’s Swansea City side in the FA Cup.
“It’s a situation we are not happy about,” he said. “We concede goals too easily. We know we have a problem on the sides, to stop and block crosses, and also to defend the second post. When we see (those conceded) goals, we know we cannot be happy with that.
“We are too passive in the important moments so we must be active more in one-on-one (situations) and to win the one-on-ones in our own area.
“When we see the goals back, it is not a question of the system or tactics, it is a question of: will I go the last metre to win the one-on-one or to block the crosses so you don’t have a problem in the 18-yard box? That is what we must do better.
“I think the players want that, but from training to (putting it into) practice it’s a different thing.”
It would have been easy for Luhukay to blame their crippling injury crisis for the team’s defensive woes. But the Dutchman does not want to use that as an excuse and insists the team have to be stronger as a defensive unit.
“We are too weak in our own area to defend 100 per cent consistently, to come and to win your one-one-ones and to clear the situation,” he admitted. “I’m not happy about the goals we conceded on Tuesday. It cannot happen so easy.
“We are too passive in our own dangerous area, and I mean the last 20/25 metres. We are not consistent, not aggressive enough to clear our own area to (prevent) goals.”
Some observers would argue the Owls have little to play for in the final four matches. They can’t go up and, although they are not yet mathematically safe from relegation, are unlikely to go down.
Luhukay doesn’t share that opinion.
When asked if he would experiment over the coming weeks, he stressed: “Every game is very difficult and intense in the Championship.
“We must focus on ending the season well.
“We must give respect to our opponents but also our own fans. We play again away from home (this weekend) and we get a lot of support every time. We must try to give our fans something back.
“It’s why I don’t like the word experiment. We are professionals and we must try to win every game with the best team available. That is what we try to do, not just on Saturday but also in the last three games.”
What gives Luhukay hope for the future is the way the side responded to going three goals down in such a short period of time. Wednesday could have wilted but Luhukay’s troops regrouped and briefly threatened to stage an extraordinary fightback after second half strikes by Fernando Forestieri and Atdhe Nuhiu.
Luhukay strongly disputes suggessions the Owls have downed tools, saying: “I don’t think (they players have given up). I think they don’t see the dangerous moments coming.
“We have let the players look back at our defending and how we have conceded goals. They know the problem but must stop that.
“We play against Hull on Saturday and they have scored nine goals in two matches. Their strikers have been unbelievably efficient.
“To come to a (good) result at Hull, we must defend unbelievably well as a team. You must be consistent, aggressive and 100 per work together defensively.”
Saturday’s derby is an opportunity for the Owls to atone for their first-half horror show against QPR. Will they take it?