You can be royally stuffed writing ahead of a game when everyone – bar you – knows the result. So I’d better be measured with some sympathy and understanding for Jos Luhukay.
Where I’d be less cautious is that, for all the shouts for a Mick McCarthy or a Nigel Pearson, I see little likelihood of Sheffield Wednesday moving in that direction. Could be mistaken but, barring a radical rethink, it’s hard to imagine a fit for that sort of traditional manager in this club model.
Rightly or wrongly, you have to make the best of what you have. Is it fair to judge Luhukay three or four games into what was always likely to be a difficult campaign? Has he had a proper chance?
On the other hand, considering Wednesday were presented with a series of winnable looking games to start the season, it is fair to suppose he might not have long to create the right impression.
Last night’s result notwithstanding (played after this went to press), the Owls’ head coach has been calm and composed amid much anxiety about the club’s general position. That’s not to spare him criticism. As he admits, the team has to do better and his line-ups for the first three league games were all found wanting. And while he needs to find his best side and fast, experienced players have to help by picking themselves.
Meantime, the Dutchman’s unflustered style may not be popular but it is arguably an antidote to the match-to-match hysteria in football. Maybe it’s also better than being the proverbial bull-in-a-china shop when everything about S6 at the moment screams “handle with care.”
Like the handling of the many younger players finding themselves, partly through necessity, in and around the team. Like not overreacting to the transfer embargo that has so far restricted Luhukay to a single signing. Like being publicly clinical and critical on performances, pretty much seeing the same game. Like proceeding with caution after the lifting of the embargo, with tricky number juggling needed.
Luhukay does not present a forceful rallying figure but I do think he says what he means and means what he says. There is a quiet strength about him, as in the way he deflected the embargo issue, and his willingness to take big, sometimes unpopular decisions.
Against that, some selections have raised eyebrows, not least the baffling deployment of Sam Hutchinson as an offensive midfielder for the opening day defeat at Wigan. But on two fundamentals, I believe he is right;-
1/ Switching on instantly to the club’s academy and boldly promoting an unprecedented number of debuts.
2/ Angling towards a more attacking system this season, trying to make best use of his better players.
This column recently advocated attack as the best form of Luhukay’s defence in a season of personal judgment.
Wednesday’s defensive frailties are obvious and hard to cure. It may go against the grain but to try out-scoring the opposition would seem the way to go – providing he can settle a midfield that over-relies on Barry Bannan for creativity and lacks pace out wide.
When all are fit (and presuming none depart), Wednesday have to capitalise on Fernando Forestieri, Atdhe Nuhiu, Steven Fletcher, Lucas Joao and Marco Matias. Throw in Adam Reach, who can play in a front three (or anywhere come to that), and George Boyd.
It’s a rich array of forward talent. At no time, in my view, should Wednesday play one up front when, at the other extreme, there is a clear case for two and maybe one (Forestieri) just behind.
The problem is balance. A lack of thrust at wing-back has made 3-5-2 more of a plan B. All roads lead back to the long-evident shortage of pace – and the interminable need for a centre back. But Luhukay can only deal with what he has and being positive may win him more support, and time, than the alternative.