Sheffield Wednesday have bold MK Dons call to make as they find a new china shop bull
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Because George Byers crashed about, disrupted the Pompey effort and flew into tackles with all the virility of the former Wednesday favourite.
Much of Wednesday’s success in the second half of the 2021/22 season was put down to the brilliance of the much-lauded ‘midfield three’ of Barry Bannan, George Byers and Luongo.
The Aussie is long-gone of course. What Darren Moore chooses to do with Byers and indeed the Owls midfield over the coming weeks and months will make for fascinating viewing.
Do the numbers stack up?
In making six tackles in the first half of the Portsmouth clash, George Byers racked up the sort of numbers that Luongo would achieve over the course of a whole match, continuing an arc of improvement in terms of his defensive contribution that started when he re-joined the side after the departure of Lewis Wing early this year.
Much was made of Luongo’s form and availability freeing up Barry Bannan spearhead Wednesday’s charge up the table in the second half of the campaign.
But Byers’ contribution on that front was understated and an effort to improve his disruption of opposition attacks seems to have continued.
Across the 2021/22 season, Luongo launched into 8.2 defensive duels per match. In each of his last three outings for Wednesday, Byers has launched into nine.
What about Vaulks? And Bakinson?
This all raises an interesting question over selection over the coming weeks, particularly given Will Vaulks’ addition to the squad.
A full Wales international and a player of 186 Championship appearances, there’s no doubt the 28-year-old will overcome the knock-on effects of time out with a pre-season niggle to play a major part in the Owls’ season.
And then there’s Tyreeq Bakinson, the bustling, energetic youngster who too brings second tier quality on his day.
Both have huge attributes both defensively and going forward and both add sort of the physical threat Moore has spoken about needing to bring to certain matches. Fit-again Dennis Adeniran has huge athletic ability.
It may well be that with Fisayo Dele-Bashiru almost guaranteed to play a more integral role in the side this season – if the club fend off interest from the Championship – that the settled nature of last year’s midfield three makes way for rotation and a ‘horses for courses’ selection policy Moore has preferred in other areas.
What about this week?
Wednesday make the trip to MK Dons this weekend hoping to claim a win against a fellow promotion hopeful after falling a goal short of doing so on the opening day.
Stadium MK was the venue for what was possibly Wednesday’s best win under Moore – a 3-2 thriller that ended a 15-match unbeaten run for the home side and all but confirmed the Owls’ play-off credentials.
It was the only one of their last 18 league matches in which Luongo didn’t feature, with Dele-Bashiru brought in to offer a hugely impressive coming-of-age performance alongside Byers and Bannan.
Byers’ record number of defensive duels in a Wednesday shirt? A whopping 19, of which he won 68%. Where? At MK Dons last season.
Moore may choose to stick rather than twist.