Beware the forgotten men: Butterfield and McManaman come to Sheffield Wednesday with a point to prove
With all due respect to all parties, neither Jacob Butterfield or Callum McManaman would have expected to be playing for Luton Town if asked a few years ago.
The two former Sheffield Wednesday loanees return to Hillsborough tonight in Hatters colours, both important figures in a side that has shown promise in a difficult early run of Championship fixtures this season.
Luton have arrived in the second tier off the back of two promotions and it is through signings such as Butterfield and McManaman that they have flourished. Both players, the subject of multi-million pound moves between big clubs just a few seasons ago, have been placed alongside hard-working pros from the lower leagues. The common denominator is that all have a point to prove.
In Butterfield’s case especially, a quick browse of his name among Sheffield Wednesday social media posts delivers a pretty clear vision of his his spell in south Yorkshire went.
Arriving on loan from a Derby County that had shelled out £5m for his registration from Huddersfield just two years before, the midfielder’s unhappy Owls career straddled both the end of Carlos Carvalhal and the start of Jos Luhukay – circumstances he blames for a string of inadequate performances.
That Sam Winnall travelled in the other direction and enjoyed a more fruitful season stuck in the craw of Wednesdayites made Butterfield the poster boy for a painful few months that saw hopes of a third-successive run into the play-offs limp tamely off track.
McManaman, a one-time Premier League prospect and England youth international, drew plaudits for his performances as a teenager with Wigan Athletic before a January move to West Brom cost £4.75m in what was Tony Pulis’ first bit of business as Baggies boss. A year later – in January 2017 – he arrived at Wednesday for a goalless and largely underwhelming loan spell of 11 appearances.
To lesser extents come Brendan Galloway, released by Everton this Summer, former West Ham and England youth international George Moncur and Kazenga Lua Lua, a once-highly-thought-of Newcastle prospect. That big-time talent, striving to prove a point in front of the packed-but-modest surroundings of Kenilworth Road, make Luton Town a dangerous outfit.
Throw in James Collins, Danny Hylton, Alan Sheehan and Sonny Bradley and you have professionals with battles of their own to tackle this Championship season. Whatever those battles, Hillsborough under the lights on a Tuesday night provides the sort of stage earned with a run of 28 League One matches unbeaten last season.
To describe Graeme Jones’ Luton Town as plucky would be wildly disrespectful and regardless of their dour records in S6, Jacob Butterfield and Callum McManaman offer the sort of top tier potential that can unlock the very best.
The Hatters have already shown in their performances against promotion-chasing Middlesbrough, Cardiff and West Brom that they are a force to be reckoned with. But they are also winless. Wednesday, clear favourites for the match, are next.