Sheffield Wednesday: Why it's good to see an end to 2017: Brentford 2 Owls 0
Goodbye and good riddance to 2017.
It was a year where the Owls regressed.
From the fourth best team in the Championship to 16th. From genuine promotion challengers to flirting with relegation.
Wednesday were supposed to fight for the top two this season.
But things have unravelled at an alarming rate and, if they are not careful, they could get sucked into a battle for survival.
After winning just one of their last nine matches, Wednesday should be looking nervously over their shoulders. The managerless South Yorkshire club, who have reached back-to-back play-offs, have recorded only seven victories all season.
“No chance,” was interim boss Lee Bullen’s instant reply when I mentioned the ‘R’ word to him after Saturday’s disappointing defeat to Brentford.
The Scot added: “We are looking up the league not below.”
However, no team is too good to go down. Lose at home to struggling Burton Albion today and the Owls are deep in trouble.
Speculation is mounting Wednesday chairman Dejphon Chansiri is targeting a high-profile manager to succeed Carlos Carvalhal at Hillsborough but the club could do a heck of a lot worse than go for someone like Brentford’s Dean Smith. The 46-year-old, who spent of a year of his playing career at S6, has done a sterling, underrated job at Griffin Park.
Smith’s teams play attractive, passing football and he has not spent a fortune in turning the Bees into a good side at this level.
Forget Paulo Fonseca or André Villas-Boas. The next Owls manager needs to know the league inside out. There is a big rebuilding job ahead at Wednesday.
After the morale-boosting victory at Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day, Bullen decided to change the team’s formation and personnel against Brentford. Daniel Pudil and Jacob Butterfield replaced injured pair Joost van Aken and Gary Hooper while Atdhe Nuhiu was preferred to Lucas Joao in attack. It was a big surprise to see Joao drop to the bench following his stellar contribution versus Forest.
Bullen, in his second match in charge following Carvalhal’s exit, said: “With big Atdhe up there supporting Jordan, we thought that would help us. Jordan has played off big strikers in the past at his various clubs.”
Wednesday also switched from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 system.
“We went with a diamond in midfield to try to get a one-man overload against their three, because they really are tidy on the ball and move it very quickly,” admitted Bullen.
Their tactical changes backfired and Brentford dominated after Lasse Vibe’s classy 20th-minute opener. The hosts carved the Owls’ depleted backline wide open. Their confidence ebbed away.
Aside from Joe Wildsmith, the rest of the team struggled. The Bees were everything that the Owls were not. Smith’s side looked solid defensively and a fluid, enterprising team in possession. Wildsmith pulled off a series of superb first-half saves to keep Brentford at bay.
Bullen said: “The confidence drained a little bit out of the team. We looked a little bit leggy after the first 10 to 15 minutes. We started off okay but slowly but surely Brentford got a hold of the game and started to control the midfield.
“I think we have to hold our hands up and admit we were maybe a yard off it at times. Maybe I got it a little wrong in the first half.”
Bullen introduced Joao and Almen Abdi at half-time and switched formation again. Still Brentford dominated.
“Getting in only 1-0 down gave us a chance to readjust a bit to 4-2-3-1, and we were a little bit more controlled in the second half,” he said.
It took the Bees until the 83rd minute to bag a second and seal the points. Substitute Neal Maupay fed Florian Jozefzoon and the forward rifled an unstoppable right-foot shot past Wildsmith.
Brentford’s second, ironically, came after the Owls had started to threaten, with Joao seeing a shot blocked and then steering a header just over.
Bullen said: “With 10 minutes to go, we decided to go for it with 3-5-2 and just as we’re adjusting we get done with a sucker punch with the second goal. I think, if we are honest, the better team won on the day.”
Victory stretched Brentford’s unbeaten home league run to 12 matches and lifted them up to 10th. It was easy to see why they had not lost in their own backyard since August.
As for Wednesday, their lack of fitness and conditioning showed. Too many looked jaded and off the pace in the capital.
“I don’t know why we looked a little leggy,” said Bullen. “The players gave a lot in the Forest game and I made three changes to try and reinvigorate them.
“They were fabulous against Forest but we let ourselves down a little against Brentford. We were maybe a yard off it at times and the players held their hands up in the dressing room.
“But there are no excuses. Brentford played exactly the same team as they did against Aston Villa. We have to look at ourselves individually and accept they were better than us. We have to believe in each other and trust in our abilities a little more.”
The final scoreline flattered the Owls, who were without nine players through injury. They could, and probably should, have lost by more. It was a miserable end to a turbulent year.
Things can only get better in 2018, right?