Comment: Massimo Luongo banging down door for Sheffield Wednesday starting berth
A tackle, a drop of the shoulder and Sheffield Wednesday set off on their way towards the Everton goal.
It came in their best period of last night’s Carabao Cup defeat to the Premier League side, moments after the shell-shock of Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s double had subsided, minutes before Dominic Iorfa’s golden chance to head the Owls back into the game was put wide.
A footnote moment in the match it may have been – the attack came to nothing – but it got the Hillsborough crowd up on its feet and chattering. The band played and hairs were raised. On their lips was the name of the man who started it all – Massimo Luongo.
Purchased from QPR in the Summer for an undisclosed fee believed to have been in the region of £1m, it’s been a frustrating start to an Owls career reduced to League Cup appearances and second-half cameos.
The Australian international, an ever-present at Loftus Road, has found himself wedged deep in the pecking order of Wednesday midfielders thus far, with Sam Hutchinson, Barry Bannan and Adam Reach all preferred in the engine room at various stages by both Lee Bullen and Garry Monk.
His relative lack of involvement is a debate that has made its way onto the the terraces. More so than the squad’s other lesser-spotted players, Luongo has been a bright spark in each of his appearances, exploding into a debut cameo at Reading, wrangling control of the cup tie at Rotherham and taking the mantle of best Wednesday player last night.
The odd tackle, the odd drop of a shoulder, it’s that change of pace, that bit of something different, that has caught the eye.
The question is – with the Owls at full strength – how he fits into the side and ahead of whom. Having made his name as an advanced midfielder willing to put in the miles at both ends of the pitch, his progress slowed when, at QPR, he was asked to perform a more reserved defensive role. With clipped wings, his influence tired slowed and his infectious energy slowed.
It’s a change in role that cost him his place in the Australian side, too. Fresh on the scene as a 22-year-old with licence to roam, Luongo was named the most valuable player at the 2015 Asia Cup, scoring two goals and assisting four throughout the tournament. More recent international breaks have seen him resigned to the bench and QPR’s dwindling wage budget aside, you have to wonder whether the promise of a return to box-to-box bounding was part of his decision to move north.
Quite where that leaves him is unknown. With Monk’s preference for a 4-4-2 looking steadfast, he has only two central midfield spots to aim at and has Bannan and Hutchinson in the firing line. On and off the field that duo are part of the furniture at Wednesday – and for good reason – whether Luongo is able to oust either of them long-term is a big ask.
On limited evidence, it could be argued that Luongo has neither the creative attributes of former or the organisational wherewithal of the latter. What he provides is an exciting mix of the two and the ability to inject life into matches at will.
His is an energy and a tenacity that sets him apart from some of his team mates and as Garry Monk prepares to hand opportunities to some of his fringe troops on a cluttered fixture list, Luongo’s is a number surely close to inclusion in a Championship starting line-up. What transpires from there will make for a fascinating watch.