Sheffield Wednesday’s squad are playing for their futures, warns manager Steve Bruce
Sheffield Wednesday manager Steve Bruce has challenged his players to prove they are worthy of a place in his thinking beyond the end of the current campaign.
With 15 Championship matches left, the Owls are on course for a second successive mid-table finish.
Bruce's men lie in 16th position heading into Saturday's South Yorkshire derby with Rotherham United.
Wednesday have nine senior players entering the final few months of their deals, including first-team regulars Keiren Westwood, Liam Palmer and George Boyd.
But Bruce, who has picked up five points from three matches in charge of the Owls, is adamant his entire squad are playing for their Wednesday careers.
Bruce said: "A lot of them are out to earn a new contract and the rest of them have really set a marker down to them to say: 'look we cannot be happy as we are sitting halfway up in the division.' We don't want to accept that.
"It is really up to them to impress me to say have they got a future here. Do they want to be part of a team going forward who has to be at the top end of the Championship, which is what this club demands and that is why I am sitting here."
Bruce plans to reduce his bloated Owls squad and has stated player contracts talks have been put on hold for the next "month to six weeks".
"There is a lot to play for; they (the players) cannot just go on easy street as I will be after them and I think they know that," he said.
"To be fair to them, their response has been very good and they are trying to tune into what we want. We need them to start enjoying their football a little bit more and express themselves in the final third a bit more. We can certainly be better in that area."
Wednesday have struggled for goals this calendar year, finding the back of the net just four times in nine outings.
"Goalscoring is where we have to improve," acknowledged Bruce. "I asked them if they enjoyed it in the first half at Millwall and everyone shook their hands.
"You have to remember that you must take a chance or two, especially in the final third. We created enough chances, especially in the second half. We have to be a bit more clinical."
Next up for the Owls is a trip to third-from-bottom Rotherham, who have not won since New Year's Day. Wednesday have sold-out their 2,477 ticket allocation.
Bruce said: "The Championship in my experience is never easy. It is probably Rotherham's cup final and they have sold out for the first or second time.
"It is never an easy place to go with the way they play. They will ask you a question and throw it into your box.
"He (Paul Warne, Rotherham manager) has done a top, top job and I am expecting a tough game.
"We have a really wonderful travelling support and believe we could have sold it five times over, given the opportunity. It is not the big derby for us, but a derby so we will have to be ready for the challenge.
"When you are playing against teams who are fighting their lives and find themselves in the relegation zone, I think you know what you are going to expect.
"They will want to turn us over and it is important we show the same resilience and hopefully take one or two chances."