Why Lee Bullen has decisions to make on Sheffield Wednesday's wings
There were periods of play during Sheffield Wednesday’s confident 2-0 win over Barnsley on Saturday that suggested the Owls had it all worked out.
Compact at the back, creative in the middle, Lee Bullen’s men played with a noticeable swagger and an intelligence that justifies their position at the top of the Championship table.
But it was a series of explosions on the wing, deep in the Tykes’ half, that pulled Hillsborough to its feet time and again.
Just two games into his Wednesday career, much has already been written in these circles about the impact Kadeem Harris has had on his side’s attack. Fast and direct with a goal on debut, the free transfer is the name on many fans’ lips, a throwback to Wednesday wingers past and much longed for.
And if Saturday’s display is anything to go by, Harris has a partner in crime. As he and debutant Jacob Murphy swapped flanks in the first half, taking turns to run at bewildered full-backs, excitement grew on the terraces. Murphy, with a confidence-swelling goal to his name just two minutes into his debut, looked the real deal.
It will not always be so, of course, and sprightly wingers are often due an afternoon where little goes right, but the energy and purpose shown on both sides of the park offer a selection headache for caretaker boss Bullen.
Adam Reach has been the go-to man on the wing for Wednesday since 2016, producing several moments of magic along the way. Shuffled into the midfield three to deputise for the injured Barry Bannan, the 26-year-old worked hard but cut a frustrated figure at times, largely unable to put his stamp on the fixture.
And it is in Reach’s case in particular that decisions will have to be made. His is a different style of wingplay to that of Harris and Murphy, more recently cutting in to cause problems on his favoured left boot while they prefer to jink and jostle out wide.
Between them the duo completed eight dribbles and took on seven shots, stats that reflect the purpose in their display. Fernando Forestieri was an unused substitute in Saturday’s win and when utilised out wide provides further options still.
Bullen commented on the tactical tweak – initially unplanned until the knock to Bannan – after Saturday’s win, describing the preference for wingers to stay out wide and take on their man as ‘old-fashioned’. Cutting in, he said, was the modern way, suggesting modern defences have gotten used to it.
Much of Wednesday’s success was built on a desire to press and contain the Barnsley defence – a job the front three, along with Reach and the impressive Kieren Lee, carried out diligently. The away side had 65% of possession but created far fewer chances than Wednesday, with Bullen admitting the plan was to ‘out-Barnsley Barnsley’ after Daniel Stendel’s men swamped Fulham on the opening weekend.
‘Horses for courses’ was the expression used by Bullen in last week’s press conference when asked about his outlook on selection and Wednesday will face far tougher tests this season than those posed so far.
As his Owls prepare for a difficult trip down to Millwall on Saturday – with another win surely nudging him one step closer to being awarded the job on a full-time basis – the Scot will no doubt be pondering his options.