He was the player who appeared to cry when he lost a tooth. And, okay, he was a bit toothless again when those big chances gaped in front of him at Hillsborough last Saturday.
But, if you’ll excuse the pun, Lucas Joao is a striker with a whole lot more bite than the one who was wished a Twitter “welcome to English football” by Sheffield Wednesday coach Lee Bullen back in October, 2015.
This was after Joao was rendered distraught during a 2-1 win at Rotherham where he scored the first goal only to be knocked into apparent submission by a tussle with Chris Maguire.
Joao was already 22 then, as well. Not the youngster he was tagged after a big money move to Hillsborough from Portugal. He’s now 24 and still without too much tangible proof of his potential; just 11 goals for Wednesday outside of his three on loan for Blackburn.
But – and it’s a big but in the best possible sense – I think Joao is beginning to shape up as a striker. The bit is between his teeth, shall we say. Not only is he showing more aggression but his powerful physique is starting to give freer reign to the outstanding footwork that, allied to his pace, has always made him a mesmerising talent – in flashes.
Last weekend’s 0-0 draw with Cardiff provided strong evidence of this. Joao was up against a rough, tough centre back in Sol Bamba who looked as if he might bully his opponent at the start. The Wednesday striker muscled in to more than even up the duel and it was nice to see an acknowledgment of this from Bamba when Joao was subbed – as if to say “I’m glad to see the back of you.”
The Owls may still be struggling for goals to capitalise on the three shut-outs under new boss Jos Luhukay, but some good chances are being created as the new system beds in.
Jordan Rhodes also missed a couple against Cardiff, but while more output is expected his general play was a step up in effectiveness. Ironically, both he and Joao are strikers who ideally need a physical presence alongside. Maybe we’re seeing a little self-help from Joao – and for both causes.
Friday’s FA Cup fourth round tie with Reading looks like being another tight affair.
Although Hillsborough is not witnessing the greatest of entertainment at the moment, there’s an obvious steadying of the ship with a more disciplined, resourceful outfit taking shape.
A shot at glory would not go amiss to lift the mood further as Luhukay lays down a base on which to build.