‘It’s in our hands’ – Sheffield Wednesday manager Steve Bruce preparing for ‘difficult afternoon’ against Stoke City
Two clubs, two new managers, but so far contrasting fortunes for Sheffield Wednesday and Stoke City in 2019.
Saturday’s Championship clash between the Potters and the Owls will see Nathan Jones and Steve Bruce go head-to-head in a battle for three vital points at the Bet365 Stadium, but it’s been quite the ride for both teams this campaign.
Wednesday, after a dismal start, have risen from the ashes and could achieve the remarkable.
Stoke, after tumbling out of the Premier League, couldn’t meet expectation and return at the first time of asking.
But regardless of league position or form, this weekend’s opponents are not to be taken lightly according to Owls chief Bruce.
“When you see the Championship, you’re not surprised that a team can win four or five,” he told the Star.
“You’re not surprised that a team can lose four or five either. That is the Championship, in my opinion.
“The biggest duel that we have had has been at Rotherham and they are near the bottom of the league, so how can you call it? It’s the beauty of the Championship week-in, week-out.
“They [Stoke] are a very, very good side, but it hasn’t gone so well for them. How often in the Championship have we seen that. They have been nearly ten years in the Premier League so no doubt they will be disappointed.
“Make no mistake, when you look at the talent they have got, the players they have got then you realise it is going to be a very difficult afternoon.”
Stoke come into the match on the back of three consecutive 0-0 draws before the international break but Wednesday will need to be wary of top scorer Benik Afobe who twice punished the Owls when the two sides met earlier this season.
And the Owls, with an unbeaten run to protect, travel to the West Midlands with the intention of maintaining their efficiency in hoovering up points since turn of the year.
“We are in good form ourselves, we’ve given ourselves a chance but it’s important with eight games to go and look at the fixture list - it couldn’t be more difficult,” Bruce said.
“They are against all the teams around us so it’s in our hands. Can we sustain what we are doing against some of the top teams in the division? There’s no reason why not.
“We’ve played two of the top six over the last few weeks and we haven’t come unstuck so let’s hope we can keep doing it. We’ve proved that we are capable.”
Wednesday will be forced to take on Stoke without in-form striker Steven Fletcher, who has been the main source of goals in a now free-scoring Owls team.
The Scot, who is sidelined with a groin injury, is the only new name on a lengthy list following a break in the domestic season which allowed vital recovery time in a tough campaign.
Injury worries Barry Bannan and Sam Hutchinson are expected to be available for selection.
“They’ve had a long weekend, they’ve had the Friday, Saturday and the Sunday off which is good,” Bruce said.
“Obviously the extra week has given us a big chance with Joao, Hooper and Forestieri in particular anyway and hopefully we’ve put some work in with them that will benefit them all. It’s an important time coming up, we’ve given ourselves a chance.
“We’ve got some big games to enjoy and look forward to so let’s go and have a crack at it and enjoy the last six weeks if we can.”
Aston Villa, Leeds United and Norwich City are just three of Wednesday’s remaining opponents from the promised land of top six, but the Owls boss knows the challenge of the task ahead.
“From Lee, to the two Steves to myself, to lose one in 15 games is a quite remarkable record,” he said.
“There’s maybe too many draws in there to mount a big, big challenge but we couldn’t have been any more as a group and a staff than what we have done.
“The big key to it now is we’ve got to repeat it, which is 23 games, which is a big tall order. One where we have proved over the last two or three months anyway that we have a chance.
“When you look at it and analyse, I never thought it would be possible a month ago when we were 12 points behind but all of a sudden we are there or there abouts.”