Creating an environment where every Sheffield Wednesday player fears for their spot in the side is what head coach Stuart Gray craves.
That’s why the Owls boss is looking forward to welcoming back four members of his squad from injury in 2015.
Sam Hutchinson (knee), Giles Coke (Achilles), Lewis Buxton (knee) and Kamil Zayatte (hamstring) are all on the comeback trail. There is even a slim possibility defenders Buxton and Zayatte could be included in the match-day squad for the trip to Wigan Athletic next week. Following the duo’s lengthy lay-offs, Gray is likely to resist the temptation to rush them back into action until the New Year.
Zayatte is poised to miss Wednesday’s January programme as the centre-back is expected to be named in Guinea’s squad for the Africa Cup of Nations finals, which begins on January 17.
Gray said: “We have missed Lewis, Kami, Giles and Sam. What you do need is that healthy competition that keeps people on their toes so that nobody is guaranteed to play in the team and I can juggle things around.”
Competition for places will hot up, particularly in the right-back and central midfield positions, when the quartet are passed fit for selection.
Central midfielder Jose Semedo said: “It will be a massive help for the team and manager to have more options. They have been out for a long time, and it will be amazing to have them back.”
Semedo says he is happy to battle it out with Hutchinson and Coke for a first-team spot.
“It’s up to the manager who plays,” he said. “We just have to train every day and the manager will have to pick. The manager said at the start of the season he has four good players in this position, and sometimes he plays the four.
“You have to keep working, and who is there do your best to try to keep the shirt.”
Liam Palmer’s place will also come under threat once Buxton has regained full fitness.
“Liam has probably become our first-choice right-back because Lewis has had his problems,” said Gray, who hopes skipper Glenn Loovens will shrug off a hamstring injury in time to face Blackpool today.
“It might be that Liam’s performances will improve if Lewis gets fit because all of a sudden he has got that fear of his losing his spot.”
Blackpool are bottom of the league and have yet to win on the road this season.
“I’m not frightened of changing the team; I will pick a team which I think will get us a result against Blackpool,” added Gray.
Blackpool are sweating over the fitness of defender Nyron Nosworthy (groin). Meanwhile, Seasiders chief Lee Clark has revealed striker Nile Ranger has failed to report for training for more than two weeks. The former Owls loanee has scored two goals in nine Blackpool appearances.
“If anyone can let us know where he is, send me a letter and we will go from there,” said Clark.
“I don’t know where Nile is. I haven’t seen him for more than two weeks.”