Familiar faces and Osaze Urhoghide's Wall - SIX talking points as Sheffield Wednesday are haunted by Steven Fletcher at Stoke City
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Ahead of this game, it was Wednesday who were the form team, going up against a Stoke side that have had a bit of a horror start to 2021.
Wednesday were high on confidence after securing five home wins in a row for the first time in over a decade, though aware of the fact that their away form is far from ideal – six wins in 25 Championship away games is hardly a record for the hosts to be fearful of.
But for the Potters, they had only one win in 15 games in all competitions going into their clash with Neil Thompson’s Owls, and Michael O’Neill will have been very eager to end their run of six games without a victory at the Bet365 Stadium.
It was a pretty tame first half, with both sides pretty much cancelling each other out in a relatively scrappy affair. Former Wednesday defender, Morgan Fox, went off with an injury, and Steven Fletcher’s old teammates managed to keep him quiet at the other end of the pitch.
But they couldn’t do the same in the second half. It was a scrappy winner, but a winner nonetheless from the former Wednesday forward. They’re nothing if not predictable as another club once again brought their poor form to an end at the expense of the Owls.
The last trip to Stoke…
It’s infamous really, isn’t it. Boxing Day 2019. With 92 minutes on the clock, the Owls were leading 2-1 after goals from Fox and Lees had seen them fight back from 1-0 down. Their form was great, they were pushing for promotion, and then Tyrese Campbell and Sam Vokes scored. 90+3 and 90+7. 3-2 it ended.
After that, Wednesday’s fell apart. They won seven of their next 41 Championship games, and it felt a bit like something had broken. And while Thompson seems to have fixed things, there’s no doubt that some of those left over from that disappointment on December 26th 2019 will have had that game in their thoughts before tonight’s encounter.
Did that play on their mind as the game was coming to an end? Hopefully not, but the proof will be in whether they can make sure this defeat doesn’t have the same result as the last one.
He was brilliant again. With every passing game he seems to be growing in stature, and backing himself more. It’s just a pity they couldn’t hold on.
It feels like Urhoghide’s decision-making is improving, and he looks expertly composed on the ball. On top of that, his reading of the game in the last few games – and again against Stoke – was excellent. It feels like he’s growing into this position in a back three, and the Owls are benefitting from it.
He’s a real athlete, too. Tony Strudwick mentioned earlier in the week that he’s possibly the fastest player in the side, and he showed his pace and agility on numerous occasions. It’s really good to see how he keeps progressing.
The amount of times he used his strength to outmuscle Jacob Brown, and others, was further proof that he’s now a player ready for Championship football.
A niggly affair
It felt like there were a lot of fouls… Watching the game it really was very stop/start. The ref seemed to be constantly stopping play for pretty soft tackles, and (with my Wednesday head on, of course) there was an element of most of them seeming to go Stoke’s way.
By the time the 90 minutes were up, eight different Wednesday players had had at least one foul given against them, and while none of them were in particularly dangerous situations, there were several that seemed to disrupt an Owls break or chance to progress.
Fletch and Foxy
There had been hopes that Fletcher and Fox would still be in Wednesday colours this season… Garry Monk wanted them to stay, and talks did take place in an attempt to secure their Hillsborough future, but ultimately it wasn’t to be and they went their separate ways.
Well, sort of separately, anyway. While Wednesday went in search of new players for their position, the former Owls both secured their futures an hour or so away in Staffordshire.
While Fox played at Hillsborough last year in the 0-0 draw – swapping shirts with Joost van Aken after the game – it was the first time that Fletcher lined up against so many of his former teammates.
And he came back to haunt them, scoring the winner in an otherwise tight game.
The Dog Fight
‘Thommo’ said before the game that it was all well and good that a few teams around them had dropped points, but that it effectively meant nothing if the men in blue and white were unable to capitalise on the situation…
Wednesday went into this match knowing that they could go as high as 19th if other results went their way, but also that they could drop to 23rd and lose ground on Rotherham United tomorrow night if they lost and results went against them.
It’s remarkably tight down there, and they remain a point away from safety.
We broke the news last night that the teenager had agreed to join Celtic at the end of the season when his Owls contract comes to an end, but he certainly didn’t play like a player who knows that his future lies elsewhere.
The 19-year-old may well be on his way to Scotland at the end of the season, but he showed all the desire and commitment to the cause that you’d expect from a childhood Wednesdayite. He’s determined to play his part in making sure Wednesday stay up.