Alan Biggs' Sheffield Wednesday column: Some may call Owls' style long ball - whatever it is, it's working

When is long ball not long ball? The way Sheffield Wednesday are playing it right now.

Thursday, 31st October 2019, 7:05 am
Sheffield Wednesday manager Garry Monk salutes the crowd after his teams 2-0 win against Huddersfield Town, during the Sky Bet Championship match at The John Smith's Stadium, Huddersfield. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 15, 2019. See PA story SOCCER Huddersfield. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.

There’s a lot of snobbery in football about styles of play.

For instance, beleaguered Stoke boss Nathan Jones seemed disparaging of the way his team were edged to their recent Hillsborough defeat.

It’s in vogue for sides at all levels to play out from the 'keeper. Oh, and to press high up the pitch - as if that is new.

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Garry Monk’s Sheffield Wednesday do neither of those things. And yet they remain unpredictable, having adopted various formations during his eight league matches, with only one loss.

At the heart of it, though, is a desire to go A to B as quickly as possible, to gain ground, almost rugby-style, high up the pitch.

The Leeds game last weekend was a classic example of its effectiveness, albeit that the Owls did not get the result their overall performance deserved in the most entertaining of goalless draws.

When we spoke afterwards, Monk expanded on his tactical approach, insisting he “doesn’t call it long ball at all.”

Actually, he sprang a surprise on a few of us, contradicting the false assumption that he would retain five across midfield against a possession-based Leeds who are particularly strong in that area.

What Monk did, in playing 4-4-2 with two big strikers up front, was bypass Leeds’ midfield rather than attempt to match it.

This came with a reminder that his Birmingham side did the double over his former club last season in similar manner.

“The key is to set the team up in a way that can beat the opposition,” he said.

“I don’t call it long ball at all - it’s about good quality passing.”

Of course, the distance is immaterial if it’s accurate and Wednesday have players all over with a high range of delivery to get the likes of Adam Reach and Kadeem Harris running free at the opposition.

Early release from the back against Leeds meant, stressed Monk, that “we took their press out of it ... which enabled us to have a foothold in the game and offensively to dominate.”

He added: “It was done with quality.

“Towards the end you could see they were scrambling and, if anything, they were playing the long balls, not us.

“Not many teams will force Leeds to defend as they had to... to clear long balls up the pitch.”

Monk remains coy about what Wednesday - top six in a league which is ultra-tight even for the Championship - can achieve this season.

But what he called “a complete performance,” on top of a high work ethic from his charges, was another pointer in the right direction ahead of the trip to face Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.

Monk’s summing up is spot on for now.

He added: “This was another step forward and it’s for us to keep pushing the standard.”