Sheffield Wednesday analysis: Owls midfielder showed versatility in important moment
There was a moment on Saturday that in years gone by would have seen Sheffield Wednesday capitulate ahead of their dogged 0-0 draw with Leeds United.
It came 20 minutes before the starting whistle, when fans' favourite and rock at the back Julian Borner went down with an ankle tweak that shook Hillsborough to the core.
The mood across the ground shifted; Sheffield Wednesday, a team that had built it surge to towards the top of the table on its defensive countability, had lost its main man at the back. What Julian Borner has done for that back four is not just stabilise a defence; it's offered a focal point for the rest of his side to build upon.
This is no exaggeration, Borner is a Championship benchmark to be measured against. And when faced with the league's pre-season favourites, a side built-up to supposedly walk the division this year, it would have been easy for the Owls to step aside and lick their wounds.
But not this Sheffield Wednesday. Not a Sheffield Wednesday that has spoken time in memoriam about their need to be able to step up in times of susceptibility and to prove a mental ruggedness that has been absent from the last two campaigns.
It was over to a man that has shown a tenacity not only to do the best for whatever side he is playing for, but to step back unto the breach when it would have been easier to take on a premature coaching role down the leagues. All of a sudden, Sam Hutchinson was instructed to break away from his usual warm-up position as the centrepiece of the Owls' midfield and into their backline.
To say there was a nervousness in the ground following the announcement of Borner's injury would be an understatement. The German has deservedly become the poster boy for everything the Owls have been built on this year, a totem of defensive calm.
But in Hutchinson they had a man capable of stepping into a role foreign to him for a long while, with an attitude that cowers to little.
It helped that he was pitted alongside a centre-half in a rich vein of form, of course. In Ben White the opposition held a defender well worth the hyped-up tag of most in-form defender in the league, but on the last month's showing, Dominic Iorfa is a heavy hitter in the conversation.
But when Patrick Bamford galloped forward into the Wednesday half within ten minutes of the first half, it was Hutchinson, not Iorfa, who took control, stepping into a tackle that set the tone for his performance.
Many have said their piece on Hutchinson before of course. The terrace game of 'Hutchinson Bingo' is a sweep stake for all the family to enjoy, the crowd waiting for his mistimed tackle that delivers a routine yellow card.
But on Saturday, against a team that supposedly holds more offensive tricks than any the Owls are likely to face this season, the former Chelsea man held firm, waiting on his touches, showing a positional nous worthy of any other centre-back on that Championship stage.
There were moments, of course. An attempt to carry the ball out just after the half-hour saw him run into trouble, providing the image of a midfielder doing a centre-back's job. But from that moment on Hutchinson was an ocean of calm, jettisoned in to what is possibly the league's most settled defence with an air of competence belying his tentative recent experience in the role.
What was especially impressive, alongside Iorfa, was Hutchinson's ability to handle two different styles of forward play. In Patrick Bamford Leeds United have a forward capable of dropping into play, bringing midfielders into attack and contributing to periods of domination in the opposition's half.
Arsenal loanee Eddie Nketiah, who replaced Bamford at half-time to purrs of admiration from the vocal away crowd, provided something entirely different. His record from off the bench - against tired, cut-up defences, has proven fruitful for Leeds, but against Hutchinson and Iorfa, his threat was nullified.
Stepping back from his role as midfield organiser, Sam Hutchinson calmed the Wednesday fraternity not just on the field, but in the entire ground. And in a nip-and-tuck Yorkshire derby against high-flying Leeds United, that's no easy task. It was a job well done.