“Fitnesss, shape, tactics, formation, work with and without the ball - these all take priority over the results.”
So said Owls manager Jos Luhukay in his programme notes ahead of their final pre-season friendly against Villarreal.
Luhukay has got a point.
People should not read too much into pre-season results. Warm-up matches are essentially glorified training exercises designed to increase a team’s fitness levels and develop patterns of play.
And there were positives and negatives Luhukay could take from Wednesday’s encounter with the Yellow Submarine.
His Owls team acquitted themselves well in an entertaining first half. Joos van Aken produced a commanding performance at centre-half, Barry Bannan oozed class in midfield and Fernando Forestieri put in a tireless shift up front.
Asked specifically about Forestieri, Luhukay said: “Everyone knows the quality of Fernando. We saw it against Villarreal.
“We are very happy that in this pre-season he has been in good shape and in good form. He had an injury for a long time and came back late last season very positively. Now he has had a full five weeks of pre-season training sessions and also the friendly games. He is prepared for next week.”
The hosts showed plenty of grit and determination after going behind to Gerard Moreno’s 17th minute opener (Moreno was credited with the goal but TV replays suggest the final touch may have come off Daniel Pudil).
Wednesday’s equaliser came from an unlikely source. Liam Palmer, utilised in the right wing back position, had gone a long time without finding the back of the net.
But after winning the ball off Ramiro Funes Mori deep inside Villarreal’s half, the Worksop-born player burst into the penalty area before calmly firing a low right foot shot past Sergio Asenjo.
Luhukay said: “It was a good goal. I was very happy for Liam. He is a player who always works very hard and intensively.”
A minor injury spoilt Palmer’s afternoon, forcing him off early after the restart.
“I think his injury is not too serious,” insisted Luhukay. “I think he will be training on Monday.
“We have Liam and Ash (Baker) for the position. They have worked to be in good form. Liam, I think, has had a good pre-season.”
Joe Wildsmith came to the Owls’ rescue on the stroke of half-time, pulling off a superb save to foil ex-Arsenal man Santi Cazorla.
There is certainly no disgrace in losing to Villarreal, who finished fifth in La Liga last season, but Luhukay was left frustrated by the second goal Wednesday conceded. Defender Mori rose completely unmarked to nod in Miguel Layun’s corner.
If there is such a thing as a good time to make these sort of basic errors, it is pre-season.
The Yellow Submarine’s third goal was sublime. Karl Toko Ekambi played a brilliant one-two with Moreno before deftly lifting the ball over the advancing Cameron Dawson, who was one of a host of second half changes made by Luhukay.
Steven Fletcher was Wednesday’s bright spark. The striker, brought on around the hour mark, looked lean and sharp in his first Hillsborough outing in over seven months.
He was desperately unlucky not to mark his return with a goal. Fletcher latched on to Adam Reach’s fine pass only for his left foot drive to hit the post.
His encouraging display has given Luhukay plenty to think about with less than a week to go until their league opener at Wigan Athletic.
Luhukay said: “I think we have worked very well with each other. For next week, we have had good preparation.
“The results in the last two games have not been positive, but the results in pre-season aren’t important as to whether you have a good start or don’t have a good start.
“I think next week we must work 100 per cent defensively and have good moments offensively.”
Wednesday didn’t play poorly. Far from it.
But they were second best after the restart.
Some perspective, though, is required. Villarreal are a top European club and their class told in the end. It cost them €18m to purchase striker Ekambi from French Ligue 1 outfit Angers this summer - a fee which is more than the whole of the current Owls’ team combined.
Luhukay acknowledged Wednesday can learn from their “technical quality”. Villarreal were individually and collectively superior.
Yet Luhukay will be alarmed by the way in which Villarreal repeatedly opened up the Owls defence. They didn’t have to work hard to break them down for the first and second goals. They could have easily been avoided.
However, Wednesday switching off defensively was a theme throughout their pre-season programme. Luhukay is demanding they play out from the back but sometimes individuals are taking unnecessary risks when the best option is to launch the ball upfield and clear their lines.
The Owls are short on pace and strength in depth at centre-half. It is an area which Wednesday needed to upgrade after their Wembley disappointment two years ago. It did not happen and now Luhukay’s hands appear to be tied because of Financial Fair Play regulations. No new faces have arrived and speculation is mounting the club have been placed placed under a transfer embargo by the EFL.
Plenty of questions remain unanswered on the field. Who is going to start in goal? How does Luhukay solve their defensive deficiencies? Would Sam Hutchinson be better off in defence rather than central midfield? Are Forestieri and Atdhe Nuhiu Wednesday’s best partnership in attack?
It seems only fitting Luhukay should have the final word.
“What I see in training every day gives me belief that we can find a good direction in the new season,” said Luhukay. “Hopefully we can make a good start, which leads to more confidence. We will look forwards and upwards and think positively.”