There are plenty of reasons for the Owls and Carlos Carvalhal to be cheerful at the moment.
Wednesday appear to be heading in the right direction under Jos Luhukay. The Dutchman, little known in this country when he succeeded Carvalhal on January 5, has turned the Owls into a solid, well-organised team.
The fact Wednesday have kept six clean sheets in Luhukay’s nine matches in charge is testament to the work he, his coaching staff and players have done on the training ground.
When Luhukay gets some of his flair players back from injury such as Barry Bannan, Gary Hooper and Fernando Forestieri, expect the Owls to be more dynamic in the final third.
And Luhukay’s team are still in the FA Cup after holding Carvalhal’s Swansea City side to a goalless draw.
Carvalhal’s return to Hillsborough just 55 days after his two-and-a-half-year reign came to an end dominated the build-up to Saturday’s tie. The Portuguese chief, who twice led the Owls to the play-offs, was given a warm reception by a section of the home fans when the Swans team coach pulled into the ground an hour and a quarter before kick-off. He jokingly asked which dressing room to go in with his squad.
It was an emotional day for Carvalhal, who watched his Swans team extend their unbeaten run to 10 matches. He has given them hope where there was none. He has Swansea dreaming of Premier League survival.
“I almost cried after the game, when I spoke to the fans,” he said. “It was a very emotional moment. I must say thank you to Sheffield Wednesday, the way the fans received me, the staff, manager and players.
“That’s the beauty in football, something really positive, not negative.
“Wednesday fans are unbelievable. I am very proud and this moment is something I will never forget in my life. I am happy because it’s only eight weeks since I left. It was not an easy moment for me, when we broke the contract, very hard days.
“When you look back, remember everything you leave in the club, you are proud. You know when I come back in five or 10 years, the people will receive me even better than now.”
But Carvalhal did not quite get the result he wanted at his former stomping ground.
Luhukay rotated his squad, making six changes from the team who impressed in the victory over Derby County. It looked, on paper, a defensive-minded team short on pace, with Ross Wallace playing off Atdhe Nuhiu in their 3-5-2 formation.
Yet Wednesday controlled the first half for long periods, with Adam Reach excelling in midfield and Daniel Pudil barely putting a foot wrong in the middle of their three-man defence. Wallace, recalled after being rested against the Rams, put in a hard-working shift in the ‘hole’ and Nuhiu was a handful up front.
Wednesday did not give Swansea a moment’s rest in possession in the opening 25 minutes. Their pressing was relentless and stand-in captain Reach almost put them ahead early on when he broke clear on the right but his effort across goal was pushed behind for a corner by Kristoffer Nordfeldt.
“I think that we had a strong beginning in the first half,” said Luhukay.
“We had a very good chance with Adam Reach, and after that played very good football. We had control of the game.”
Cameron Dawson, given the nod between the sticks over Joe Wildsmith, kept the scoreline goalless, producing a superb one-handed save to tip over Mike van der Hoorn’s header from close range.
As Carvalhal pointed out post-match, the draw was a fair result. The visitors had two strong penalty appeals turned down but overall it was a scrappy contest devoid of any real quality.
Jordan Ayew and Nathan Dyer brought a fresh impetus off the bench to Swansea and they looked more likely to find a winner in the second half. But Wednesday restricted them to few sights at goal and showed plenty of grit and determination to frustrate the Welsh club.
At the final whistle, Carvalhal was given a standing ovation by the Owls faithful and he applauded and blew kisses to all four corners of the ground.
“Coming back after just eight weeks, this type of reception made me very proud. I was the happiest manager in the world,” admitted Carvalhal.
Carvalhal has referred to Wednesday as “his home” and claimed he will forever be an Owl.
It is fair to say he enjoyed his homecoming.
See you in just over a week’s time, Carlos.