Sheffield Wednesday: Old pals act aids new boy

Wednesday and Millwall players in the melee at the Den
Wednesday and Millwall players in the melee at the Den
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Even when Connor Wickham is not at Hillsborough he can influence Wednesday affairs.

His glowing report on life with the Owls helped to convince Benik Afobe that the loan move from Arsenal was right for him though other clubs were in contention.

Both strikers are 20 and have both been involved in England set-ups, Afobe from the Under 16s to Under 21s.

“Me and Connor have been good friends since I was 15, so I spoke to him about coming here. He is devastated to have left Sheffield Wednesday this week, he really enjoyed it here,” said the Gunners forward.

“He had nothing but good words for this club, he said it would be a great move for me. Hopefully it will be.

“It’s been hard for Connor at Sunderland, he didn’t really get a chance. He came here, blossomed and got his confidence back.

“I always knew Connor was a good player, I have played with him before, and hopefully I can do the same thing here, score a few goals and help the team win games.”

Stuart Gray said that Afobe has been on his radar for weeks: the Owls manager went to watch him play for Arsenal Under 21s in a Cup game against Chelsea on Monday. Afobe said: “It was a hard game, went to extra-time; there were a lot of legs going - the first game I had played for more than 90 minutes in two years - so we were all tired, but I ended up getting the winning goal.”

Ex-Owls assistant manager Terry Burton and on-loan Arsenal keeper Damian Martinez also spoke to him about Wednesday.“Terry thought it would be a good move for me.

“He said Wednesday play good football, get crosses in, and it would be ideal football for me.

“Emi (Martinez) is a good friend of mine. He said it’s a good club. Evrybody I’ve spoken to has had nothing but good words about the club, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Gray, if he plays Afobe from the start, and if Wickham is not back from Sunderland, is set to choose between the youthful pace and exhuberance of Caolan Lavery and the target-man play of big Atdhe Nuhiu as the complement to the new signing.

Afobe describes himself as a centre forward who is quick and has good movement; Gray says, in addition, that he gets in behind defences and is strong.

“He’ll stretch the pitch for us,” says Gray, “He’ll chase lost causes. It (the recommendation from Wickham) helps. Several clubs were trying to get him. What we do here is get lads from other clubs to show what they can do. Connor has obviously done that. We treated him well. Maybe Benik wants a piece of that as well.”

Wickham was an unused sub for Sunderland against Stoke on Wednesday; Gray said he still hoped that the former England U-21 forward could return to Hillsborough, and was still on the trail of Hull’s Matty Fryatt.

The Owls boss does not think that Reda Johnson will be fit for tomorrow’s game - which means Joe Mattock is likely to return.

The results of a scan on Glenn Loovens’ hamstring are awaited. If he is out, Miguel Llera will play, alongside Oguchi Onyewu, who will be making his home debut.

The Owls and Millwall could be fined after being charged by the FA over the melee at the Den, which involved players from both sides after Giles Coke and Shane Lowry clashed and earned red cards.

The clubs are accused of failing to ensure their players behaved in an orderly fashion.

Gray said: “I’ve seen worse. If that’s what the FA want to do, we have to accept it. We’ll get together and review the video footage, and put our case forward.”

The Owls chief confirmed that he will be bringing in John Deehan as a coach: “Since Dave Jones and Paul Wilkinson went, we’ve been a bit short-handed. He’s someone whose opinion I value very much, and he’s a very experienced, knowledgeable football man.”