Firmly in the relegation zone, Aitor Karanka’s men take to the stage in Yorkshire for Saturday’s nail-biting meeting with relegation rivals Sheffield Wednesday.
Neil Thompson’s men have endured a difficult season with ownership troubles, managerial changes, and financial problems leaving them in a rut. They will hope they can help themselves and drag themselves out of the bottom three this weekend.
The Owls are on a decent run compared to their opponents, with three wins in their past five games. They fell short in a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Stoke City on Tuesday evening. Wednesday have fared considerably better than teams in and around them, edging past bottom side Wycombe Wanderers and picking up a dramatic win at Bournemouth. They have had roughly the same run of games that Blues have had recently but have managed to pluck away at points which The Blues couldn’t.
Their loss at Stoke was even more bitter with former striker Steven Fletcher netting late on.
Wednesday had to begin the season adrift of all the other league teams after a twelve-point deduction hitting them for breaching spending rules.
They restructured their coaching set-up in August with James Beattie and Darryl Flahavan arriving from the Blues.
After three wins from their opening eleven games, Garry Monk and his backroom staff had their contracts terminated in November. Monk’s replacement came in the form of experienced boss Tony Pulis who took in Craig Gardner as first-team coach.
However, Pulis would not last long and out of a possible thirty points, he picked up just the one victory and a meager seven points. There were other internal issues that instigated this decision.
First-team coach Neil Thompson was put in caretaker charge, but their league games against Coventry and Wycombe were postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak at the club.
Thompson began his reign with two consecutive wins, whilst reaching the fourth round of the FA Cup in the process. They have only lost three games in eight under Thompson and he has guided them to within reaching distance of safety.
Since taking over as manager after the bizarre departure of Tony Pulis, Thompson has steadied the ship slightly with his use of the 3-5-2 in his first game against Middlesbrough and the 4-2-3-1 in other games.
The 3-5-2 mainly sees striker Adam Reach in the free role popping up in open spaces trying to look for a shot or the killer pass.
The Wednesday squad is very versatile, with a number of players able to play a variety of positions, but it’s clear that he could stick with one of the two formations for this encounter.
There has been a bit of a debate about who should partner Callum Paterson upfront. In the last two games, it has been Jordan Rhodes, whose winner against Bournemouth has probably swayed Thompson’s decision to drop Elias Kachunga to the bench.
Also, it seems that Thompson will play with wing-backs, with those most likely to be Reach and ex-Cardiff winger Kadeem Harris. This is a complete contrast to the more defensive players that were used in these positions a few weeks back, in Liam Palmer and Matt Penney. It seems that Thompson wants to go with an attacking set-up, leaving his trust in captain Tom Lees and the other two central defenders to do their jobs.
The Owls Dangermen:
Not so much of a danger man, but captain Tom Lees has been an ever-present for the Owls ever since his debut in 2014. With 234 appearances to his name, he was Wednesday’s best player in the defeat to Stoke, making crucial blocks. Blues will need to be strong against a three-man defence and will need that pace and trickery to unsettle Lees and his backline.
With ex-Villa man Barry Bannan’s five assists this season, expect him to be a threat with his dead-ball deliveries. Frontmen Callum Paterson and Jordan Rhodes will look to prey on a hurting Blues defence, especially after Mikel San Jose’s error on Wednesday night. With ten goals between them, they are starting to form a decent partnership.
Goalkeeper Kieran Westwood is a force in the Wednesday net, with one goal conceded every 102 minutes. This is not too bad, with Wednesday conceded thirty-one goals this campaign.