Sheffield Wednesday: What Jos Luhukay had to say on the Championship promotion race
The race to reach the Premier League will go right down to the wire.
That's the view of Jos Luhukay as his Owls side prepare to take on in-form West Bromwich Albion at Hillsborough.
Practically every year the Championship throws up surprises.
And with less than a quarter of the campaign gone, no club has yet to break free from the pack. There are few points separating the top teams.
Nonetheless, Luhukay is tipping WBA to figure in the automatic promotion shake-up. The Baggies, relegated from the top-flight last season, have made a strong start to life in the second-tier.
Luhukay, who expects forward Marco Matias to be out of action for a "couple of weeks" through a hamstring injury, told The Star: "For me, WBA, Leeds, Middlesbrough and Swansea are the favourites to finish in the top four positions.
"Then I think four to five clubs will be fighting to the end for positions five and six.
"I think the first three positions will be very tough to come to.
"We must not forget that you have also got Stoke City. They are now a little far away but they have high quality. Then there is Swansea and Aston Villa.
"I think Fulham last winter were 11th but by the end had qualified for the play-offs. They made it to the final and were promoted to the Premier League.
"You have a lot of strong clubs in the Championship. The clubs who are maybe now not so stable can come back in this league.
"We have to focus on ourselves and find our own way.
"We have a good position in the league and we look hopefully always to the play-off positions. We don't want to be looking at the bottom. We want to be looking a little bit higher."
The Dutchman reckons there will be "seven to eight" teams battling it out for the play-off positions.
"It is difficult in this league as you have so many good teams," he said. "You have teams who have 20-25 players and they don't lose quality when they have injuries or when players are not in the best form.
"The challenge is to find your own way, to play and win games. It is hard.
"I know after nine months how intense this Championship is and you see in every game new impressions from your own team. Sometimes the team surprises you. Sometimes they disappoint you but you can't stand still.
"You have to be mentally and physically strong in the Championship as you have a game every three to four days."
WBA head to S6 full of confidence, having wonÂ four of their last five league outings. Strikers Jay Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle have formed a lethal partnership in attack, finding the back of the net 13 times between them to fire Darren Moore's team into the upper echelons of the table.
'They hey have a fantastic team,' acknowledged Luhukay, who is still sweating over the fitness of defensive duo Ash Baker (leg) and Daniel Pudil (nose). 'We know their qualities. They have unbelievably dangerous strikers who score easy goals. They have good stability with strong defenders. They have a good balance.
"All the credit to my colleague. It is not easy when you come down from the Premier League to find a very positive direction but they are number one and deserve to be top.Â
"They are as a team very stable. They play very good and have made a good start to the season.'
Luhukay has told his Owls stars to show no fear as they seek to maintain their unbeaten home run.
He said:Â "It is hard, tough game for us but anything is possible in the Championship.Â
"All their strikers are making assists and scoring goals.
'We will play against strikers who are dangerous. [Dwight] Gayle has six goals. [Jay] Rodriguez seven goals and [Harvey] Barnes three and with a lot of assists from players on the outside in [Kieran] Gibbs and [Matt] Phillips. They play in a very positive way offensively. They have quality but we must not be afraid.Â Our defenders have a lot of work to doÂ but it is the challenge.Â We have respect for them and we know their qualities but we must focus on ourselves and fight for 90 minutes.
"We must believe in ourselves and each other. We will have our fantastic fans behind us. The atmosphere will be great and it can give you extra motivation. Hopefully our fans and my team can find the best way to come to a fantastic game.'
The Owls will be without Barry Bannan, who serves a one-match suspension after picking up his fifth caution of the season.
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