The hard graft in the Portugal sunshine is over for another year.
Sheffield Wednesday flew back to the north of England yesterday, having completed a productive six-day pre-season training camp.
The trip abroad had a little bit of everything.
Team bonding. Double training sessions. Three friendlies in four days. Great goals and two clean sheets.
Around 500 Owls fans followed the team’s fortunes in the sweltering heat and the travelling army will have been relatively encouraged by what they saw.
The fixtures against Portimonense, SC Farense and Vitoria de Setubal enabled boss Carlos Carvalhal to give playing time to the majority of his squad and work on some of their deficiencies on the training ground. All in all, it was a very worthwhile exercise.
The Owls rounded off the camp with a goalless draw against Vitoria on Saturday night. Both sides created chances but fluffed their lines in front of goal.
Morgan Fox and the influential Barry Bannan, twice, went close for Wednesday in the first half, with Jordan Rhodes having two goals ruled out for offside.
At the other end, striker Gonçalo Paciencia was a real livewire for the Primeira Liga side and was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet twice from long range.
The best chance of the second period for Carvalhal’s men fell to Steven Fletcher but the Scotland international header over Adam Reach’s inviting centre. Vitoria forwards Edinho and Joao Amaral also wasted opportunities.
Carvalhal said: “It was the hardest test we have had so far in pre-season. In many ways, this game was like a Championship game because of the tempo of the play.
“Vitoria are a very good technical team with some talented players. They are an organised team and have a lot of quality. It was a nice test for us.
“But we managed the game very well. The players did their jobs and their application was fantastic.
“We got the clean sheet and the only negative was that we did not get a goal.”
Results aren’t everything in pre-season but winning the warm-up matches can help build momentum ahead of the 10-month Championship marathon. Five matches in and the Owls have yet to taste defeat. Confidence is growing, which can never be a bad thing.
Of course, the opponents will get tougher. Much tougher, in fact. But Wednesday are looking in good shape.
There were some strong individual performances on tour. Reach was the pick of the bunch and scored a spectacular winner versus Portimonense to maintain his impressive form. Bannan was like a little terrier in midfield, working hard with and without the ball.
George Boyd showed flashes of his undoubted ability and looks a shrewd free-transfer capture. Fletcher opened his goalscoring account and appears to be getting back to his best after recovering from a knee injury.
That said, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Some of the service into the strikers left a lot to be desired and the lack of pace in the side remains a cause for concern.
In the absence of Glenn Loovens, Daniel Pudil has deputised at centre-half and has admirably stuck to his task.
The reality, though, is centre-half is not Pudil’s natural position. He’s a left-back and it is vitally important Wednesday boost their options in that department before the transfer window shuts at the end of August.
Carvalhal, who has made it clear he wants to bring in a minimum of one new centre-half, said: “Daniel has done well. He is progressing game by game.
“Vitoria have some very good strikers but they didn’t cause us too many problems.
“They had one or two chances but I think we had more.
“The most important thing is it was a competitive game played at a high intensity and it was very important to see us run and fight a lot.”
Three key Owls players not involved over the weekend were Keiren Westwood, Glenn Loovens and Kieran Lee.
Westwood suffered a knee injury in Friday evening’s training session while Loovens (hamstring) and Lee (hip) have yet to take part in any of Wednesday’s warm-up matches.
Carvalhal expects Westwood, Loovens and Lee to resume first-team training this week.
“Keiren felt a little pain in training,” he said. “If the game had been official, he would have played but we didn’t take any risks. Glenn and Kieran will start training with the team this week
Midfielder Almen Abdi (knee) continues to be monitored closely by the medical staff but Carvalhal almost has the luxury of a fully-fit squad to choose from.
“We feel ready for the competition right now if we had to start,” he said. “I’m very happy with how we are doing.
“We have tried to give minutes to everybody. I feel all he players are fresh in the mind and legs and ready to play.
“The work in Portugal has been good. The games have been good and the players feel strong and together as a group.”
Next up for the Owls is a clash at League One new boys Doncaster Rovers on Wednesday night.
Carvalhal said: “With Doncaster, we will try to give tempo and rhythm to all the players.
“We play Preston on the opening day and then Chesterfield in the cup three days later so we will probably use all of the players in this period.
“We must be ready with everybody.”
Sheffield Wednesday: Wildsmith, Hunt, Lees, Pudil, Fox (Wallace 46), Boyd (Winnall 73), Bannan, Jones (Hutchinson 59), Reach, Rhodes (Fletcher 59), Hooper (Forestieri 46).