We are only two friendlies into Wednesday’s busy pre-season programme, but Carlos Carvalhal already feels his players have set the standard for the rest of the season.
Carvalhal claimed he witnessed an “amazing” passage of play in the early stages of his team’s hard-fought victory over Mansfield Town.
It was hard to disagree with Carvalhal’s assessment of the opening 25 minutes at the One Call Stadium. The Owls dominated and deservedly led through Jordan Rhodes’ third goal in two outings. Their passing was crisp, accurate and Mansfield couldn’t live with them. There looked a big gulf in class between the two teams.
Wednesday could have been out of sight if their finishing had matched their precise, attractive build-up play.
Morgan Fox looked lively down the left flank, combining well with Adam Reach, who has made a strong start to the summer. Modern-day full-backs are expected to supply ammunition to the strikers and Fox made a series of positive forward runs, although his final ball let him down on occasions.
Sam Winnall forced new Mansfield shot-stopper Conrad Logan, formerly of Rotherham United, into action in the seventh minute, seeing his low left-foot shot kept out.
Barry Bannan pulled the strings in midfield and he clipped a clever ball into the penalty area which narrowly evaded Rhodes.
But the visitors’ pressure paid off when Rhodes sent a trademark header past Logan following a fine cross by Reach. The Owls’ record signing looks in fine fettle and his goal capped off an eventful week for him, with wife Emma having given birth to a girl.
Carvalhal believes the Owls are starting to play more to Rhodes’ strengths.
The boss said: “Jordan is playing more on the last line of the defence.
“He understands the team better. We are very happy with what he is doing, not just him, but all of our strikers. We have very good strikers with different abilities.”
Against the run of play, the Stags could have immediately levelled things up after a loose pass by Cameron Dawson. Jacob Mellis slipped in Jimmy Spencer but the striker’s tame effort was easily saved by Dawson.
But Wednesday quickly rediscovered their poise and George Taft produced a vital block to thwart summer signing George Boyd as Carvalhal’s men continued to boss proceedings.
Logan turned away Daniel Pudil’s rasping left-foot shot and Boyd fired inches off target following a free-flowing move down the right. The Owls looked in complete control.
Carvalhal said: “There were high points and weak points in the game. We started amazing in the opening 20 to 25 minutes. We had a very good dynamic. We played very well. We scored one goal and we had three or four chances to score more.”
Now for the negatives.
Wednesday handed their League Two opponents a way back into the contest after sloppy defending from a set-play just after the half-hour mark. Paul Digby lifted a free-kick into the six-yard area and Taft scrambled the ball in after David Jones, who played well, Winnall and Rhodes failed to clear the ball to safety. It was a soft, sloppy goal to give away and the visitors were indebted to Dawson to going into the interval all square after he repelled Anderson’s drive.
Carvalhal said: “After 25 minutes, we dropped a little. We tried to correct at the break. Bannan and Jonno came too near the defenders and we miss a little the control in the middle.”
Both sides made wholesale changes at the break and it took only eight minutes for the Owls to regain the lead. Jones whipped in a corner towards the near post which Lees headed in powerfully off the underside of the crossbar.
Surely Wednesday would kick on now and ram home their advantage? Mansfield had other ideas.
The second period was far too even for Carvalhal’s liking.
The Stags caused the Owls problems defensively. Daniel Pudil filled in manfully at centre-half but Wednesday missed captain Glenn Loovens’ presence. Pudil was out-jumped by Rhys Bennett for Mansfield’s second equaliser, another goal coming from a set-piece.
Carvalhal, who admitted the Owls must “correct” the defensive mistakes they made, said: “I didn’t like too much of what I saw in the second half. But I understand some players come back from injuries and it was their first game.”
It was a big boost for Wednesday having Steven Fletcher and Fernando Forestieri back in the fold. Forestieri’s pace and trickery kept Mansfield on their toes.
Ultimately, the visitors’ winner came after two of the Owls’ other strikers linked up. Gary Hooper’s shot-turned pass picked out Lucas Joao and the Portugal international calmly side-footed a shot past Bobby Olejnik.
It is two wins out of two for Wednesday. Eight goals scored. Two conceded. There is still plenty to work on as the big kick-off draws ever nearer but there were more positives than negatives to come out of their trip to Mansfield.
“We are building our team,” stressed Carvalhal. “Our proposal is to play more like we did in the opening 25 minutes.”