Alan Biggs' Sheffield Wednesday column: Owls must play to the strengths of this squad

Have five strikers. Always play two and have at least one on the bench.

Thursday, 3rd October 2019, 10:00 am
Owls Steven Fletcher. Pic: Steve Ellis.

Sometimes simplicity is best - and as long as one of those starters is Steven Fletcher.

That was the easiest conclusion to draw from a drab midweek defeat at Hull where Fletcher’s absence - he is expected to be fit for Wigan on Saturday - coincided with Garry Monk’s first league loss.

But an overall plan to be more direct could still be the key to whether Sheffield Wednesday, with this squad, can become a force under the new boss.

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Steve Bruce’s “too many strikers” was reduced by one with the prudent substantial sale to Reading of Lucas Joao (who, incidentally, hasn’t scored in eight appearances since opening with two in two).

Now Monk is juggling with five, including Jordan Rhodes, barely used in the Championship so far, and the suspended Fernando Forestieri.

Height and power was the order of the day when Monk exposed suspected weakness in former club Middlesbrough with last Saturday’s stunning 4-1 win at the Riverside.

Fletcher and Atdhe Nuhiu worked well as a pair. But to make that happen a more fundamental change was required - going back to front more quickly.

At Hull, without kingpin Fletcher and with Sam Winnall lightweight by comparison, it didn’t work, albeit that missed chances and the denial of a definite penalty demonstrated slim margins.

“Direct” has become something of a dirty word in football, perceived as a euphemism for “long ball” and “hoofball” at a time when most teams attempt “to play”, often from the keeper.

You have to play to your strengths, though, and Barry Bannan has made the valid point that the Owls have been too ponderous in their approach play over the past two seasons.

Besides, Bannan and Sam Hutchinson have the ability and range to ping passes over any distance. That’s where being “direct” is constructive rather than being random and aimed at scrapping for loose balls. It can bring free-kicks around the box, for instance. So we’ll see whether a shift in thinking can consistently provi de more ammunition.

Certainly it could add to the effectiveness of Kadeem Harris, an outstanding threat down the left and an absolute steal of a signing by Bruce, whose captures of Julian Bor ner and Dominic Iorfa make up some measure of redemption for all his all-too-short reign.

Best not to draw too many conclusions just yet. But, as predicted here last summer, the Championship is looking much less formidable this season.

Indeed, Wednesday remain well within striking range if they can add more fluency to what I thought was a loose performance in possession against a commendably combative Hull.

It’s there to have a go at, much as more convincing evidence is needed of anything above a top-six push.

Monk is taking a balanced view, never too up or down in victory or defeat. It’s a voyage of discovery for him, too.