Frustrating, far from pretty.. and yet Darren Moore's Sheffield Wednesday are in a good position
Given the mood among some sections of the Sheffield Wednesday fan base at current, you’d be forgiven for assuming the Owls were not a point outside the playoff places.
And you can see why. After rising to the top of League One in August, Wednesday have stuttered and stumbled their way through September and now much of October via the gifting of last-minute equalisers and uninspiring attacking displays.
Those with glasses half full though may well be looking at things with a little more sunshine as this choppy early-season navigation sees the Owls in a solid league position, just 11 matches into the season.
Bolton Wanderers, who have been talked-up as promotion hopefuls in the early season shake-up, were this weekend’s opponents on an afternoon that saw Darren Moore’s Wednesday huff and puff their way to three points. Again, they were a long, long way from their best.
And Bolton are perhaps a fine example of the virtue of patience in an industry that so rarely offers it. This time last season, under a new manager with a new team, they were fifth-bottom in League Two, with two wins in 11 and a goal difference of minus-eight.
The grumblings around Ian Evatt’s management were very real. Promotion offered the climax to a major improvement that saw Moore describe the Trotters as the strongest team Wednesday have played so far this campaign. The Bolton boss has similar ideals to Moore as to how to play football; it’s a philosophy that can take time to bed-in.
There’s little doubt there are vast improvements to be made by the Owls if they are to get promoted this season and there are no guarantees that patience equals eventual success, of course, but the rewards for long-termism are worth shooting for.
Things haven’t been at all easy-on-the-eye, there remain huge reservations about their potency going forward and there’s a sense the manager’s methods are yet to truly sink in at pitch level. Moore himself has admitted on a number of occasions that his side have only impressed – particularly going forward – in ‘20 or 30 minute spells’.
But the fact is that the Bolton win means they sit a point back on the top six, just five shy of the automatic spots. It should be noted that they boast the second-best defensive record in the division. All this without having touched second gear.
Speaking to The Star in the lead-up to Bolton, Moore was asked whether he may have grimaced a touch at his player’s bullish – maybe even foolhardy – suggestions during their three-wins-in-four start to the season that they were on a one-way ascent to the League One title.
There’s no doubt of course that that remains the aim for the Owls, as it is for 23 other clubs, but Moore has been consistent and more measured in his words throughout. He has spoken a number of times about the fact there will be bumps in the road and that it will take time for his side to come together.
“Maybe it’s my experience,” he said. “It’s me not disrespecting the other football clubs in this league.
“One thing with my messages is that I’ve always been straight. It’s me understanding the league and understanding that it’s my job to show that experience I’ve had as a player and a manager.
“You never get anything freely given and while a lot of people can say things, there’s a lot that goes in to it in order to win games consistently over the course of a season.
“I’ve witnessed it as a player on five different occasions [promotion], you understand the levels you have to get to and stay at for all this to happen.
“That’s why us coming together as a staff and players, it’s a complete rebuild in the structure [of the club] and everything else. There’s a lot of work that has gone on since the summer and it’s ongoing now, there’s a lot of work ahead of us.
“It’s about spending time together, it’s about working together consistently and making habits that win games on a Saturday. We want to get to that consistency.”
Though he reiterated the fact that tactical flexibility from game to game remains a preference, there has been a suggestion that Moore’s longer-term plan at Wednesday would be to shift to a preference for a 3-5-2 based system.
The long-awaited full debut of Lewis Gibson, a naturally left-sided defender with experience on the left of a back three, saw that formation used for the first time on Saturday. His injury ended the switch and anything long-term on that front would no doubt be a major blow to any immediate transition to that system.
Add in the long-absent talents of Massimo Luongo and Josh Windass and there is a natural dynamism there that Wednesday have not produced anywhere near enough so far this season. Their returns will surely add more than just competition.
Could it be better? There’s no question. But amongst stuttering performances there are reasons for optimism, not least their standing in the league table. Sheffield Wednesday have several gears left to go through this season.
History shows relegated sides so very rarely walk into this division and hit the ground running.
Whatever happens, one man who will not get carried away at any stage is Darren Moore, whose message pushing the need for patience has been steadfast.
“My message has been clear that we are still working to get to that [consistency],” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I want it to come straight away and I’ve said that. I don’t hide away from that.
“The message has been clear to supporters and everybody at the club. I’ll be working so hard, I’m committed to the club and I’ll keep doing that, helping put a team together that is going to consistently win games for this wonderful football club.”