Can Connor Wickham fill Steven Fletcher’s shoes at Sheffield Wednesday?
The king is dead, long live the king.
Sheffield Wednesday will start life without Steven Fletcher this weekend when they make the trip to playoff-chasing Bristol City in search of a new goalscorer and a new dynamic.
The Scot will leave the club at the end of his contract, taking with him 13 league goals that set him eight ahead of next-best Jacob Murphy.
Speaking to the media this morning, Owls boss Garry Monk confirmed he was ‘highly unlikely’ to play a part in the match at Ashton Gate due to the fact he hasn’t trained all week due to soreness in the injury that cut short his cameo against Nottingham Forest on Saturday.
And the fact is that up to now, Wednesday have been a very different team with and without Fletcher. With eight games arriving in just over three weeks as the Championship scrambles to complete the season, it’s a problem Monk has to solve and quick.
Fletcher, a powerful aerial threat, provided Monk’s side with a dependable focal point throughout a lead-up to Christmas that took them to third place. It may well fall to Connor Wickham to fill that void.
Wednesday have been among the busiest crossers of the ball in the division this year and on Saturday released 40 of them, with only nine making their target.
While this rightly asks questions of their delivery, there should be a concern over the fact that the accuracy of crosses drops sharply in matches during which Fletcher has played less than 45 minutes this season, compared to time with him on the field.
Wednesday cross slightly more readily with the big Scot present – 18.77 times per 90 minutes compared with a figure of 16.4 per 90 without – but what is remarkable is that in matches Fletcher has featured heavily, nearly 36 per cent of crosses find a Wednesday man, compared to just 25 per cent without.
The numbers suggest that the Owls’ crossing is only as good as the man running on to meet them.
Wednesday have been less of a threat without Fletcher, too, offering an xG threat of only 1.18 compared to the 1.46 xG with him. Over the course of a season, the figure would cost the Owls 12.42 goals.
Indeed, they average 1.42 goals per 90 minutes in matches he played the majority of, compared to 0.63 in matches he has missed or played a smaller part in. They average over two shots more per match with him in the side (12.96 to 10.38).
What too is telling is that of his 13 league goals, 10 have come while Wednesday have been behind or drawing. His goals have mattered and the Owls have won only two of the 11 games he has missed altogether.
Few Championship players have been as important to their team as Steven Fletcher to Sheffield Wednesday. The task now for Garry Monk and Connor Wickham is to fill that void.