It was virtually the perfect pre-season finale for Sheffield Wednesday.
Carlos Carvalhal’s men recorded another routine win after strikes either side of half-time from Tom Lees, the irrepressible Fernando Forestieri and debutant Almen Abdi.
It was a classy, confident showing by last year’s Championship Play-Off finalists and Carvalhal is pleased with how they are shaping up with a week to go until the new campaign.
“We are completely ready for the competition,” said the Owls head coach. “We have done a very good pre-season.”
Full-backs Liam Palmer and Daniel Pudil enjoyed themselves going forwards, Forestieri continued his impressive scoring run and Abdi made a big impact after being introduced in the second half.
However, the friendly underlined yet again their lack of strength in depth at centre-back. Jose Semedo, primarily a central midfielder, lined up alongside Lees at the heart of their rearguard. He put in a solid performance but was rarely tested. It is definitely an area Wednesday could do with strengthening before the big kick-off.
Carvalhal conceded: “We need more players; we will try to bring them in as soon as possible.”
The Owls kept a clean sheet but Aston Villa won’t be as generous as Port Vale were in the final third. Any lapses in concentration will be punished.
The only other thing which took some of the shine off the performance was striker Lucas Joao being forced off with an injury midway through the second half.
To accommodate summer signing Steven Fletcher, Carvalhal switched Forestieri, the Owls’ star man, to the left flank.
There were several times last year where the Argentine-born Forestieri was tasked with that role and he showed up well. He doesn’t play as an orthodox winger and is given licence to roam by Carvalhal to weave his magic.
Wednesday dominated from the off. Palmer and Pudil, making his first appearance since arriving on a permanent basis from Watford, gave the hosts good width on the flanks.
It took Czech Republic international Pudil just four minutes to test the reflexes of Ryan Boot. His fierce left foot volley was turned away by the Valiants shot-stopper following a fine delivery by Steven Fletcher.
Port Vale, who finished 12th in League One last year, nine points adrift of the play-off places, offered little resistance early on. The visitors struggled to keep Wednesday’s attacking players at bay and Ross Wallace wasted a glorious chance to put Carvalhal’s men in front after a lovely move involving Pudil and Forestieri.
It always looked a matter of time before the Owls made the breakthrough and it duly came in the 19th minute, Lees rising unmarked to plant a bullet header out of Boot’s reach after an inch perfect Wallace corner.
There appeared, at times, a considerable gulf in class between the two sides.
Vale had few sights at goal, with Sebastien Amoros lifting a free kick high over the bar before Paulo Tavares’ ambitious effort from near the half way line drifted agonisingly wide of the far post.
But Wednesday had the edge throughout and Pudil should have done better following a great run and cross by Palmer in the 36th minute.
Fletcher, looking to impress in his first Hillsborough outing, glanced over after Lees made himself a nuisance again from another corner.
Palmer and Pudil’s performances were big pluses for Wednesday, although some of their end product in the final third left a lot to be desired.
Carvalhal made a double change at the interval, throwing on Abdi and Joao. In the tactical re-jig, Abdi was stationed on the left while Forestieri moved up front to partner Joao.
Forestieri seemed more comfortable centrally and maintained his excellent pre-season form, doubling the Owls’ lead in the 51st minute. He drilled an unstoppable left foot shot into the bottom corner to claim his fifth goals in as many warm-up matches. His finish oozed class and quality.
Whatever Carvalhal said in his team talk at the interval certainly lifted his players and Forestieri came close to grabbing his second, steering a deft lob from an acute angle on to the top of the net.
Abdi livened Wednesday’s forward line up. His diverse passing range and clever movement off the ball gave Carvalhal’s side extra creativity in midfield.
The Swiss international capped off a wonderful, incisive passing move in style in the 57th minute, side-footing home in a one-on-one situation with Boot after racing on to Barry Bannan’s neat pass.
“Abdi doesn’t know the team yet but he has qualities as a footballer,” said Carvalhal. “It is easy for these players to understand what we want.
“Daniel [Pudil] came in and gave confidence to the team and so did Almen. They did well.
“It was more easy for Daniel because he understands his colleagues having played with them last year. He played with a good tempo.”
Abdi nearly turned provider in the 70th minute, whipping in a dangerous centre towards the back post which Pudil fizzed over.
It is clear Abdi has an eye for goal and the talented playmaker struck the right-hand upright with a rasping low shot in the closing stages after the Valiants backed off him. Lees’ follow up was well parried by substitute Miguel Santos.
There was still time for Vale to threaten as Anton Forrester shrugged off the attentions of Lees before seeing his attempt smartly blocked by Keiren Westwood.
Carvalhal stressed: “It is not about the score. That is not the most important thing. It is the process. It is the way we play and the way we correct our mistakes.
“We have developed the team game by game.”
There are still things the Owls need to sharpen up at both ends of the field. But with their injured stars on the mend and new blood set to come in before the August 31 transfer deadline, Wednesday look in good shape.