Alan Biggs's Sheffield Wednesday column: Bold changes pay off for Luhukay
It was the week when Jos Luhukay gambled and won. Now he's perhaps one result from getting Sheffield Wednesday on a roll '“ and Saturday's trip to an uninspired Reading, ahead of the international break, presents a big opportunity for the Owls boss.
It’s his first real chance to get the crowd’s support solidly behind him and he’ll have deserved that for the manner in which he’s turned the tide of popular opinion.
Let’s imagine for a moment that his sweeping changes of just over a week ago, dropping experienced players for youngsters, had backfired against Millwall. It would have been hard to see Wednesday win the ensuing home game with Ipswich in such circumstances – or Luhukay surviving being at the brunt of the backlash.
Instead, two wins – the first mightily impressive and the second scrapped out – not only justified the head coach’s radical action but cast him in a new light for those, fooled by his undemonstrative demeanour, who had viewed him as an ineffectual figure. It’s great to see proof of this column’s conviction that he’d been misjudged.
Considering the landslide criticism he risked, Luhukay merited all the praise coming his way. I guess he felt he had nothing to lose. But he has put down a marker that he is very much in charge and that, as he has said himself, he won’t respect reputations unless senior players pick themselves by performance alone.
It is healthy and necessary for the way ahead. As is his striving to include as many attacking players as possible, reflecting where the squad is strongest.
In midweek, against Wolves in the Carabao Cup, Luhukay made eleven changes – a dilution that rendered Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat against a much stronger line-up entirely predictable.
Normally I favour Championship sides having more of a go in this competition but have to say his choice was understandable.
Whereas the first round game at Sunderland was symbolically important, delivering the Owls first win of the season amid much pressure, the focus had realistically shifted to building on a league revival that can yet offer a glimpse of more than the top half of the table.
And the atmosphere around Hillsborough has markedly changed. There was unreserved backing for, and tolerance of, a midweek line-up parading five young players, including Jack Lee for his debut.
They were competitive, if unsurprisingly outclassed in the end. None made an irresistible challenge for the first team but are unmistakably pushing.
Calls don’t come bigger than sidelining Keiren Westwood and dropping Fernando Forestieri to the bench; in their time the two most popular players. Currently I’d back Luhukay over Forestieri, too, but with the rider that I hope it spurs his best form.
If Wednesday are to challenge this season then, providing he’s still here, I think they’ll need Forestieri on the pitch much more often than not. He changed the Ipswich game as a make-things-happen substitute and, without him, Wednesday are not over-blessed with the inspiration to tilt tight affairs like that.
Where Luhukay scores most heavily for me is that he has created a much-needed freshness from within. He’s had to. It may be that he can add to his single signing before the loan window closes but the impetus will have come before any transfer activity. Again, it’s the silver lining to the cloud, giving the Owls some breathing space to improve their overall transfer strategy.