COLUMN: Everybody loves Carlos, just like they did Stuart Gray

Having players of the quality to make a difference is one vital ingredient '“ as in the stirring victory at Birmingham '“ but it is not the sole reason for Sheffield Wednesday's genuine promotion challenge.

Thursday, 11th February 2016, 11:06 am
Updated Thursday, 11th February 2016, 12:50 pm
Carlos Carvalhal with Owls ex boss Stuart Gray now with Fulham

There is a bigger one – and it relates back to last season’s relative success under Stuart Gray.

Then, as now, the team maximised what they had. Players didn’t have to be asked to voice their respect for Gray, they were virtually queuing up to say how much they enjoyed working for him.

Owls striker Atdhe Nuhiu has a laugh with old boss Stuart Gray now working at Fulham

That’s when you know it’s not just lip service.

Much the same noises are repeatedly being made about Carlos Carvalhal.

But the other key common denominator is that the new man was clever enough to recognise the work of the other one in structuring all the superior ability around an English core and an equally vital strand of continuity in coach Lee Bullen (albeit a proud Scot!)

It was fitting that Bullen stood in on the post-match media duties at St. Andrews’s where an injury-hampered Wednesday contrived two brilliantly executed Gary Hooper goals to reclaim sixth place.

Owls striker Atdhe Nuhiu has a laugh with old boss Stuart Gray now working at Fulham

This side has individuals capable of changing a game in an instant without need of being on the front foot for an entire 90 minutes.

But it takes more than that to impose it consistently.

Remember that it was the second time in five days that the Owls came from behind, having earned a point without playing particularly well at home to Burnley.

Significantly, Barry Bannan was the architect of all three recovery goals.

I’ll agree that they have to start beating those teams above them, but you sense that performances have yet to peak. The players clearly believe that, too, in relishing the kind of environment that Carvalhal, an effervescent, energising character, has created.

“Carlos has been a breath of fresh air,” former striker John Pearson, now a club commentator, told me. “The players love playing for him. He gives them a bit of freedom but there is organisation as well. For me, Carlos has pulled the club together.

“In terms of watching Wednesday, I missed the golden era of the 1990s because I was still playing. But this is the best Wednesday side I’ve seen since those days.”

Feet on the floor, for me they still have to be better at starting games and imposing on the opposition. But Pearson’s assessment includes the days of Paolo Di Canio and Benito Carbone! They were outstanding individuals and in the top flight. This is shaping as a better team.