Sheffield Wednesday: How George Byers has improved in both halves to make good on proving a point to Portsmouth

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“I can sit in front of the back four, but also I think I can get forward and be a man that gets you goals from midfield,” George Byers said back in August. “I'll do whatever the manager asks of me.”

Sun shining down, the central midfielder was speaking just a few weeks into his Sheffield Wednesday career after defeat at Morecambe. The Owls had been beaten 1-0 but were riding high in League One, early season form that had prompted various players and pundits to proclaim their title credentials.

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Byers had arrived at Hillsborough from Swansea on a free transfer, fresh off a loan switch to Portsmouth that saw him reduced to bit-part status.

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Sheffield Wednesday midfielder George Byers has scored five league goals this season.Sheffield Wednesday midfielder George Byers has scored five league goals this season.
Sheffield Wednesday midfielder George Byers has scored five league goals this season.

“Last year I picked up an injury which set me back for six months and that was disappointing,” Byers explained. “I needed opportunities elsewhere, which was Portsmouth.

“That didn't really work out which was a shame, but these things happen. Coming to Sheffield Wednesday, I feel like it's a fresh start for me, I'm really pleased to be here and, hopefully, push on in my career.”

The intervening months have peaked and troughed; for both player and club. The midfielder picked up a groin injury an hour into their next game, a defeat against Plymouth. He'd play only 55 minutes of league football in the next 112 days.

In that time Wednesday won eight of their next 21 and slipped into a playoff scrap they’re still fighting, though few would have argued Byers’ absence was a catalyst for that ebb-and-flow run of results. His Sheffield Wednesday career had started slowly and such is the expectation of the club, many had written him off.

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Seven months on from that sun-baked west coast interview, Byers is fit, firing and makes up one third of a midfield that has contributed to a transformed campaign. He’s roared back and then some – both defensively and offensively.

His goal against Cheltenham on Saturday was his fifth of the league season; he’d arrived with four to his name in his career.

Adding goals to his game was something he’d spoken about doing at the outset of his career, but it’s a headline stat that’s been backed up by an upturn in donkey work since his return from injury less than two months ago.

His defensive stats are up on last season’s stint at Portsmouth in almost every meaningful metric; defensive duels (7.2 per 90 from 4.1), interceptions (4.7 from 3.15) and recoveries in the opposition half (10.19 from 7.25). Behind Massimo Luongo no Wednesday player makes more tackles than Byers.

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“I felt I had a bit of a point to prove,” Byers said back in August.

“When the opportunity came about and it started to progress, I was clear this was the only place I wanted to come. It's a massive club.

“I want to play in front of big crowds every week. Speaking to the manager, his ambitions matched my ambitions, we want to push to get back into the Championship and then hopefully look to push again.”

Byers has battled adversity to make strides in achieving his individual goals this season. The goals he mentions for Sheffield Wednesday? If they achieve them, you have to think he’ll have played a central part.