Sheffield Wednesday column: How control and game management have been the hallmarks of Steve Bruce’s time at Hillsborough
It’s a well worn saying that the Championship is one of the toughest leagues in the world.Steve Bruce knows this more than most because he’s endured years of its relentless schedule, unpredictable opponents and surprise results.
But his experiences mean he has mastered the art of controlling the controllable and, most importantly, he’s imposed that mindset on his Sheffield Wednesday team within ten games of stepping into the Hillsborough dugout.
Since Bruce’s arrival at the club, the Owls have looked more assured, defensively compact and more confident.
Crucially at this stage of the campaign, they are in control and they are comfortable in their game management.
They know what is expected of them and they know what to do in every situation.
If they go three goals up in the first half, as they did against Swansea, then it’s ok to sit off a bit and – even though it might frustrate some Wednesdayites – play the ball around in their own half.
Struggling to find a way back into the match against Derby? Then they can lump it in the box and rely on big Dominic Iorfa to stick his head on it.
Even in smaller moments like Bruce’s decision to take Sam Hutchinson off with twenty minutes to play at 2-0 up against Brentford shouldn’t go unnoticed.
They’re the details that show why he’s won promotion to the Premier League four times.
In that instance, it could have been a sliding doors moment that preserved Hutchinson and allowed him to feature in Wednesday’s next four games until his hamstring injury in the warm up against Blackburn.
It’s hoped the tenacious midfielder, along with Scottish duo Barry Bannan and Steven Fletcher, will only be sidelined for the duration of the international break after sustaining minor problems last Saturday.
And Bruce’s management of his key, but injury-prone, players is a sign of his experience.
With the break in full swing and eight matches left until the end of the season, there’s never been a better time for Bruce to hammer home the fact that everything is now in Wednesday’s hands.
Yes, it’s a tired trope of player and manager interviews to hear the words “taking it game by game”, but that’s all this group of players can afford to do if they are to achieve the remarkable.
Of course the Owls chief will need to keep giving his squad the belief that they are in control, but nobody can take this play-off push or unbeaten run off them – unless they let it slip themselves.
Wednesday are the hunters rather than the hunted, and in the final throes of the season successfully managing that mindset might just be the difference.