A few years ago I remember bringing a friend to watch a pre-season friendly against Sheffield Wednesday.
He was a Wednesday fan, and so we had some good-hearted banter and a great afternoon. They beat us solidly (if I remember, it was early on in pre-season and we were still sorting out the team) but that was OK because they were a league above. We joked about playing each other next season one way or another…
Well, it took a couple more seasons, but here we are and probably not how I’d hoped to be facing them. This weekend’s match is a real crunch with both teams at key points in the table – we desperately need a win to give us some space from the bottom teams and they are in good form challenging for a play-off place. I hope it will be a tough match because that at least means we are putting a shift in.
Wednesday’s away form is definitely what is letting them down this season. Five of their seven losses have come away from home, they have won less than half and are scoring at a much lower rate. I’m wary of putting too much stock on xG in these circumstances though. Their xG away is around 1.46 but they are scoring at a much lower rate of 1.29 goals per game. However, we are conceding regularly and so it’s hard not to back them to hit or exceed their xG.
They are certainly coming to us in decent form. After slipping up to Rotherham in mid-Feb (a team very much on track to be champions) they have had a run of wins including a thumping 5-2 home win against Burton on Tuesday and wins against Charlton and Doncaster. Recent away form has been mixed though, they’ve had a string of losses and only pulled wins against teams in the lower half of the table.
The Owls are likely to line up 3-4-1-2 or 3-5-2. From our earlier encounter, I know they like a fast pace of play and to push forward. In fact, it might feel very similar to the style of football we play – quick 1-2’s around the edge of the box to put in a cross. They like to load the box and play off quick crosses, don’t expect pauses in play and it could get pretty frantic in defence at times. Wednesday are not a heavy possession-based team away from home but equally, they do not sit back. Admittedly they had over 65% possession in their last away game, but that was against Doncaster so hardly surprising. Overall they like a 50/50 game with a lot of pace and pressure.
Barry Bannan is the Owl’s anchor man in their midfield. At 32 he has plenty of experience and has racked up seven goals and eight assists (many from set pieces) this season. Looking at his performance this season he is the whole package, willing to take on the opponent and take the ball into the box as well as run the line and break up play in midfield. He will be someone that our midfield needs to close down as he likes to pop quick balls to attackers on the edge of the box as well as run forward.
Aside from friendlies, the only real encounter in recent years was last year’s 1-1 draw at Hillsborough. A rare away trip for me, I remember it being a competitive match with the highlight of a rare Montsma goal this season. Given the Owl’s home record that draw feels like a pretty positive result.
Prior encounters are as far back as the 1970s when we’d have played them in what was then the third division (March 1978 was our last win at Sincil Bank). To be honest, Wednesday are a rare opponent for us, having spent a lot of their time in the top flights and generally, when we’ve met they get the upper hand.
Given the situation, it’s hard to call Saturday’s game. I’m expecting them to play at pace and this has actually worked to our advantage so far this season. Morale is certainly at a low point but have we hit bottom and looking up? Who knows.