Inside the Sheffield Wednesday camp as Owls plot overdue fightback
Sheffield Wednesday have entered the November international break standing on the rubble of a horror start to their return to the Championship. The hope is that foundations are being laid for an overdue fightback in the points column.
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A tally of three points from a possible 15 in Danny Röhl's opening flurry of matches in charge of the Hillsborough club does not reflect the 'new manager bounce' many will have hoped for after the sacking of Xisco in October. But signs of progression in performance are clear to those eager enough to look.
A 4-0 reversal at home to Millwall on Saturday served as a step back on a run of matches in which Wednesday had been ultra-competitive. Had luck been weighted just a little more in their favour, defeats at Watford and Bristol City could easily have been very different results.
Their position in the league table is perilous, their inability to take chances a rapidly growing concern and leakiness at the back remain. These are no small problems and the fact is that survival from the Championship, right here and right now, feels a mountainous task.
But from the carnival of carnage that took place over the summer months, the squad Wednesday are left with appear to be together. They're left to fight some fairly gruesome odds, but with Röhl and his coaching staff impressing squad members no end and the whirlwind of Xisco's unfortunate reign now consigned to history, the hope is that they can begin building from this fortnight.
Röhl has described his plans for the players across the two-week break as a 'mini pre-season' and while the absence of a magic wand make a rabid surge through the league table when fixtures recommence unlikely, a feeling of being 'together as one' is growing. While Xisco was largely seen as a popular figure on a personal level at Middlewood Road, it is understood that messages were not always crystal clear or consistent, with the cacophony of off-field noise at the club serving as an unavoidable distraction as results woe built.
Wednesday's new manager, clear in his methods and meticulous in carrying them out, seems to have struck a chord. Team building sessions will take place in the coming days as part of a busy, long-planned international break schedule aimed at recovering players from an intense first few weeks with Röhl, while further building towards his on-field intentions.
"Since he has been here, I have spoken to him and the coaches," said 22-year-old forward Anthony Musaba. "They really know what type of player I am. If a trainer knows about the qualities of each player in the team, that gives big confidence in a player.
"If you have a coach that doesn't know your best points, that is when it is hard to get the confidence. He is a coach that talks with the players, he is open and you can go to him. I have done that and at the moment I have confidence. He knows what I can bring. He shows this in trainings and in the game."
Wednesday's summer recruitment has served as a point of debate among many, with the late appointments of Xisco, recruitment hand Luke Dowling and other factors contributing to a wide range of signings. It did, however, serve to bring in a handful of younger players, some who have stepped into the first team fold more readily than others.
Dutchman Musaba arrived from Monaco new to English football and raw, providing off-the-seat excitement and big-moment frustration in equal measure. He has quickly become a key player in Röhl's Owls set-up and has the attributes to suit the German's preferred philosophy. As the embryonic stages of a move for 22-year-old foreign imports go, his has been a promising start to life in the Championship.
That start has been aided by the presence of not only Röhl and his coaching staff, but by players within the Middlewood Road changing room, he told The Star. The sense is that they're pulling together, with multi-lingual centre-half Bambo Diaby acting as a training ground translator for the new faces still learning English and senior men stepping in aid and assist the fresher faces, Musaba among them.
He continued: "I think about the experienced players like the captain (Barry Bannan), Josh (Windass), all these players, Jeff (Hendrick), Palms (Liam Palmer). These players have played here for a long time. I'm saying only a few people but in the whole squad there are people who have played a lot in the Championship.
"We as the younger guys learn so much from them. They have a lot of experience, we have to listen to them. If they say something, we have to listen and follow them.
"They give us plenty of advice. If there is something we need to ask we can go to them. That's the good thing here, these players are really open to helping us. Even when I was brand new here they were open to talk about things and that's a good feeling for me, especially as a new player."
Wednesday's task ahead is a long and difficult one. But despite all the difficulties thrown their way so far, it appears the squad itself is sticking together and is primed behind their new chief.