Why the December fixture list is potentially season-defining for Sheffield Wednesday
December looks a potentially season-defining month for Sheffield Wednesday.
Four of the six matches the Owls play before the end of the year are away from Hillsborough, including tough-looking trips to promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion.
If Wednesday can end a difficult 2018 on a high by picking up a healthy points return from their December programme, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Jos Luhukay's side could find themselves back in the top half of the Championship and be within touching distance of the play-off positions.
But should they struggle over Christmas, there is a real danger that the Owls may get sucked into a relegation battle.
Boss Jos Luhukay told The Star: "It (December) is a very hard and intensive period, but it is why we try to look to our players.
"The medical team, the sports science team and we, as a staff, look very intensive to that. We know what problems the team and the players had in December last year. We will not have that again."
Wednesday currently just have three injured players: Kieran Lee, Gary Hooper and Sam Winnall.
"At this time, we are going in a very good direction with the team and players," added Luhukay.
What Luhukay is refusing to do is look too far ahead. He is determined to concentrate on the here and now, starting with their clash at mid-table Blackburn Rovers.
Luhukay said: "We must not take them lightly. We must be very professional and 100 per cent focused. We must give our best to win."
Rovers, runners up in League One last season, have slipped into the bottom half after winning just one of their last six outings.
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But Luhukay is acutely aware of the firepower Tony Mowbray's team possess and has warned his players to keep close tabs on Bradley Dack and Danny Graham. The pair have notched 15 goals between them this season.
"They have struggled a little also from the last games but we will take Blackburn very seriously," stressed Luhukay, who has confirmed Kieran Lee has undergone knee surgery and will not return to training until January. "They have quality in their team, especially with Dack, who is their top-scorer in the team.
"He has eight (league) goals and [Danny] Graham is a very strong, central striker.
"We have to keep an eye on them and try to keep a clean sheet. Hopefully we will create our own chances and score goals."Â
Liam Palmer will replace Ash Baker, who serves a one-match suspension for accruing five yellow cards, at full-back.
"Liam is in good shape," said Luhukay. "The physical side is absolutely no problem.
"He must believe in himself. He is 100 per cent available to play so he must try to take his chance and play a good game against Blackburn."