Anatomy of a fall: Assessing the turning points in Sheffield Wednesday's disastrous 2019/20 campaign
It’s rarely dull at Sheffield Wednesday.
And so it proved in the 2019/20 season, which twisted and turned on a number of key moments as Wednesday rose as high as third at Christmas before free-falling into a miserable 2020 that saw them finish in 16th place.
More shock events are to come, you’d think. But let’s take a leaf through some of the key talking points of a turbulent season.
Bye bye Brucey
It all rather snowballed. An idea scoffed at at first, as Newcastle United’s search for a manager went on after the departure of Rafa Benitez, the odds of Steve Bruce filling the void shortened.
Alongside his assistants Steve Clemence and Steve Agnew, Bruce had masterminded a mid-season recovery that saw Wednesday enter the summer with optimism and with three of his players – Julian Börner, Kadeem Harris and Moses Odubajo – in the door. Something, it was felt, was building.
What stung was the timing; just 26 days before the start of the Championship season, Wednesday again started on the back foot.
Despite all the upheaval, life under Lee Bullen, into his third spell as the club’s caretaker manager, started well with Wednesday winning three of their first four matches.
Defeat at Preston followed and The Star reported that a decision would be made over the September international break. Any chance of Bullen getting the job full-time, it was felt, rested on the result at home to QPR.
“I don’t think it was that I explicitly wanted the job,” Bullen later told The Star. “But I felt I had got to the stage that I was ready for it if it came.
“It was the third time I’d done it and I’d really enjoyed it. I did feel like I had half a chance to be honest going into that QPR game.”
The Owls went one up through Steven Fletcher before a Jordan Hugill double earned Rangers a 2-1 win.
“I know how powerful a club this is and the history and the tradition of the club and know the backing that the chairman has given the club over the years,” said Garry Monk as he was unveiled as Sheffield Wednesday manager on September 6. “It is a great opportunity and one I am excited about.”
Describing the Owls squad as ‘capable’ and expressing his desire to ‘accelerate the club’s potential’, Monk had ambition in his eyes and got down to work, losing only one of his first eight league matches and going eight unbeaten at Hillsborough.
Pain in the Potteries
Third in the league, four wins in five, six matches unbeaten. All roads were pointing only one way.
To Boxing Day, then, and Wednesday under-par at struggling Stoke, who had gone one up early. As the Owls swept home two goals in seven minutes it reeked of the sort of promotion mentality that could make them serious contenders.
As they in turn conceded two in injury time to lose 3-2 it showed a weakness that would become all too apparent in the coming months. It started a run of four wins in 23 games that would see the club finish in 16th place.
With Keiren Westwood already having been dropped after defeat at West Brom back in November, by the time February was done long-serving midfielder Sam Hutchinson had played his last game at Wednesday, a 2-1 FA Cup win at QPR in which he went off injured.
“I try and do that not just for the here and now, but for the future of the club, and for how we need to evolve this squad,” Monk later said when quizzed on the absence of Hutchinson.
“Sam is part of that situation, but I’ve had clear chats with Sam, he understands where he is, I’ve had clear discussions with him like I have done with all the players.”
The midfielder left the club at the end of his contract last month. Westwood has a year remaining on his deal.
Home truths at Wigan
Having hinted at issues previously, Monk pulled no punches in lambasting the club’s changing room culture after a spineless defeat at Wigan four days after QPR, admitting some players had become ‘too comfortable’.
“Change needs to happen,” he told The Star in his first explicit discussion of the transition ahead at Wednesday. “The ones that can do it and can fight and will fight for their futures every day at the football club, they need to be here.
“The ones that can’t need to go. That’s the way it needs to be.”
The freeze after the Bees
It didn’t get much lower for Wednesday than a 5-0 March defeat at Brentford that saw them booed off and spectators confront Owls players outside the ground post-match.
Trudging away from their last-ever visit to Griffin Park on a run of one win in 10, few could have expected that it would be more than three months before we’d see the Owls play again.
The suspension of football due to the coronavirus pandemic saw the season extended beyond the course of several big-name contracts.
Only Atdhe Nuhiu and Kieran Lee signed on to complete the season, with the likes of Morgan Fox and top scorer Steven Fletcher leaving alongside Hutchinson, Sam Winnall and Fernando Forestieri. It left them with a paper-thin squad with seven league matches still to play.
Bashed by Boro
A fitting finish to Sheffield Wednesday’s long and winding 2019/20 season saw them take the lead, have their moments in a clash against Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough and then lose it at the death thanks to poor defending.
There’s work to be done in the coming weeks.