After reaching the Championship play-offs in their last two seasons, Sheffield Wednesday find themselves in danger of being sucked into a relegation dogfight.
Just one point was picked up from two consecutive home games against Bolton and Ipswich, with a 93rd minute equaliser denying the Owls on Saturday afternoon.
As a result, Jos Luhukay’s side find themselves currently eight points above the drop, and a massive 23 points off the play-off positions, where they would have expected to be at the start of the season.
Carlos Carvalhal was sacked in December after guiding Wednesday to the play-off final at Wembley in his first season in charge. After struggling this campaign, he parted company with the club after a home defeat to Middlesbrough in which fans turned on the manager.
Luhukay’s arrival as first team coach has not seen an upturn in performances, as Wednesday have only won three of their 15 matches under the guidance of the new Portuguese manager. This suggests it is the players who have to take the responsibility as much as the individual in the managerial hot seat.
Expectations have massively risen among the Wednesday fans after Carvalhal led the team to 6th then 4th place in the table. As a result, the atmosphere has been toxic and negative within Hillsborough this season as their fans now expect so much more. Their frustrations have boiled out, which can be no help to the players on the pitch.
Injuries have certainly hampered the squad this season with many first-team regulars being unavailable such as Fernando Forestieri, Barry Bannan, Gary Hooper and Steven Fletcher to name a few. All these players would undoubtedly improve the team if they were consistently available.
After the 2-1 home defeat to Ipswich in midweek, Luhukay said in a press conference: ‘‘Hopefully in the next few weeks we have players back so we can improve the quality of the team that little bit higher.
‘‘In the first weeks we made very good progression but when you come into a period where sometimes you do not have luck on your side, it is difficult. We played very well against Aston Villa for example but came away with no points for our efforts.”
Tom Lees returned after over three months out against Ipswich on Tuesday night. In doing so, he reached the landmark of 150 appearances for the Owls, highlighting how much of a loss he has been for Wednesday given his experience and leadership from the back.
Midfielder Adam Reach said: ‘‘We don’t like to get the violins out and sort of talk about how bad the injuries have been. But I think our injury list is full of real regular starters in the team.
‘‘The spine of our team has been massively hampered but it can also give a lot of confidence for the players who have to come in and may not have got much of a chance if it weren’t for the injuries.
‘‘There’s pros and cons, but we’re disappointed with the injuries we’ve had because I think it would have been a different season altogether if we hadn’t had so many.’’
It is undoubtedly a disruption to a team if changes have to constantly be made to the starting line-up, as often it is a settled team who do well-as Wednesday were when they finished in the top-six.
‘‘We have a team who did not believe in themselves and did not have the confidence to play offensive and to create chances,’’ Luhukay said last Tuesday night.
— Sheffield Wednesday (@swfc) March 10, 2018
Such words illustrate how the club have failed to address the problem of goal scoring since Hooper picked up a hip injury. The former Norwich and Celtic striker is still the highest scorer for the Owls with ten this season. After Hooper, Lucas Joao is second in the scoring charts with seven and he has not played regularly.
Only six teams have scored less goals than Wednesday in the league. This is not good enough regardless of injuries.
With a huge Yorkshire Derby away to Leeds United on Saturday, The Owls need a win to restore some pride and to eradicate any fears of relegation. A win over their rivals would go a long way to boosting morale among the fans and players.