For Sheffield Wednesday newcomers Lewis Baker and Will Keane, the midweek contest with Birmingham City proved to be something of an eye-opener.
The wintry weather in South Yorkshire over the last few weeks has severely affected the Hillsborough pitch. Numerous players mis-placed passes and struggled to get the ball under control on the bobbly playing surface as the Owls were held to a goalless draw.
Birmingham manager Gary Rowett criticised the state of the pitch, claiming his players would have been better off wearing flip-flops. He said the pitch had a “100 per cent bearing” on the stalemate.
He said: “I’m not going to sit here and berate Sheffield Wednesday for that pitch but you can’t play football on it and you can’t get the ball down and play.
“I almost embarrassingly said to the players at half-time: ‘Listen, just kick the ball as far as you can down the pitch and just play for seconds and see if you can land on something and break’.
“There was no way you were going to be able to pass the ball up the pitch with any sort of control.
“There were was that much sand, the players might have been better of playing in bare feet or in flip-flops rather than boots.
Baker and Keane made their first starts since arriving on loan from Premier League giants Chelsea and Manchester United respectively and Wednesday head coach Stuart Gray admits it would have been a big culture shock for the young duo.
“I don’t think they have ever played on a pitch like that before,” said Gray. “I don’t think they have that at Chelsea or Manchester United so it’s a learning curve for them.”
The Owls chief, who was disappointed by their end product in the final third, believes there is more to come from Baker and Keane. Gray expects Keane to be fit for the trip to Reading this weekend, despite suffering a cut to his eye against Birmingham. The 22-year-old was taken off with 15 minutes remaining and the injury required several stitches.
Gray said: “I thought Will played well. He was technically very good on a difficult pitch. His link up play was good. He can manipulate the ball, turn and go forward.
“He maybe lacked that bit of sharpness in the final third. There were a couple of passes which Will just failed to get on the end of and that’s the problem when you take lads on loan. You know you are going to have to get them match fit in games.
“But he will get fitter and stronger as will Lewis Baker, who I thought started very brightly and showed he can pick out a pass with either foot but was probably blowing a bit in the second half.”
While Gray has expressed his concern over the state of the Hillsborough pitch, he refuses to use that as an excuse for their poor home form. Wednesday have won just three times in 14 league fixtures on home soil this season. Gray said it is “no coincidence” that the Owls have accrued 23 of their 38 points away from Hillsborough.
“There is nothing that can be done to the pitch at this moment in time,” said Gray, who says he has never seen Chris Maguire give possession away as much as he did in the first half versus Birmingham. “It will probably be mid-April when the grass starts growing again. We have got another nine games at home so we have to find a way of beating teams on it.
“The pitch isn’t the best but it’s the same for both teams. We have to learn how to play on it. I want to get the ball down and play but unfortunately for players, they are tensing up because the ball’s bouncing all over the place.
“When you do get in and get opportunities, you’ve got to be more clinical in front of goal.”