Sheffield Wednesday: Underdog status will suit Owls, claims Tom Lees
It is hardly a David versus Goliath contest.
But most people in the football fraternity will expect first-placed Newcastle United to be too strong for Sheffield Wednesday on Monday night.
The Magpies, relegated from the Premier League last season, are the red-hot favourites with bookmakers to make an instant return to the top-flight.
Rafa Benitez’s expensively assembled side are on a roll, having picked up maximum points from 11 of their last 13 Championship outings.
Not many pundits are giving the Owls much chance of causing an upset at St James’ Park. Carlos Carvalhal’s troops will head north as the clear underdogs, but Tom Lees wouldn’t have it any other way.
The centre-half told The Star: “Newcastle will be very tough. They are up there for a reason. They have a lot of good players so we will have to be at our best to get anything from the game.
“Probably every team in the division who plays Newcastle go in as underdogs but we don’t mind that. We’ve had some good results away from home this season and maybe not got what we deserved sometimes. We are looking to do the same again and get a better result.”
Wednesday can draw inspiration from their last trip to St James’ Park. An under-strength Owls team prevailed in the third round of the League Cup following a second half strike by Lewis McGugan.
But Lees, who started that cup tie, believes that success will have no bearing on their Boxing Day encounter.
“I can’t imagine more than two players in our team will be playing on Monday and it will be the same for them,” he said.
“The atmosphere at Newcastle is totally different now. When we last went there, it was a really bad atmosphere but now they are flying so we will be facing a much different opponent.”
The Owls have built their success in the last year and a half on a strong defence. Although Carvalhal insists publicly he is not bothered about keeping clean sheets, Wednesday racked up 17 in the second-tier last year and have already recorded eight this time around.
Lees has stressed the importance of keeping things tight against the free-scoring Magpies.
He said: “We have to keep a clean sheet. Newcastle don’t give much away so when we get our chances we are going to have to be really efficient.
“We are not going to get chances by the bucketloadlike we have had in other games. We might only get one or two so we have got to be efficient and be solid defensively.
“There have been times where we have defended and concentrated really well this season but conceded a silly deflection. Sometimes it can’t be helped.
“Sometimes you think too much about it.
“We want to keep clean sheets so we will keep working hard and analysing what we can do better.”