Column: Why Sheffield Wednesday's Cardiff City test is all in the mind
Sheffield Wednesday players face a battle with their subconscious this weekend. Pretending you need to win when you only need to draw is easier said than done.
But it is the psychological trick that points the surest way to the play-offs.
Needing just a point – as per the Owls at home to rivals Cardiff – is the most dangerous demand in football. Ask man of the moment Neil Warnock whose Sheffield United side lost to Wigan, and with that result their Premier League status, after only needing to draw at a rain-soaked Bramall Lane in 2007.
Ask Steve McClaren who, later that same year, peered from under his umbrella as England, who only had to hold Croatia to qualify for Euro 2008, were washed away 3-2 at Wembley.
Both those managers then also lost their jobs. Not that this would happen to Carlos Carvalhal if Wednesday were to stumble at the end of what has been a strong revival season.
But the reason for the upturn has been a more positive mind-set, enabled by a far higher quality of player, and I’m sure Carlvalhal will insist on it staying that way in testing circumstances on Saturday.
Draws can kill you and the Owls have had three on the spin while on the brink of clinching sixth place. Russell Slade’s Cardiff, four points adrift, will be just a point behind going into the last round of fixtures if they win on Saturday. So, rather than getting fixated on the single point required, perhaps the better way to look at it is that Wednesday have to win one of their last two games.
Wolves away would present a precarious second shot at it if required. Let’s hope not and for that to happen, you feel Wednesday have to psyche themselves into matching the attacking intent of visitors who simply have to go for it. And Cardiff fans will not have forgotten how their team, then under former Owls boss Dave Jones, were pipped to a play-off spot after losing 1-0 at Hillsborough on the last day in 2009.
If there has been a rare but consistent criticism of Carvalhal’s team almost throughout the season it has been a failure to start games – at home especially - on the front foot and a dearth of goals in the first half of games. Sometimes, too, the head coach hasn’t gone with his most attacking formation until the second half, as was the case against MK Dons most recently.
More often than not, though, Wednesday have won in the end by cranking up a gear to impose their quality in patches of devastating football - rather than pressing relentlessly. It is a different game from the old kitchen sink variety and much the better for it. But there is still a place for a hard-driving start, which would be the ideal base this weekend.
You have to believe, as I do, that Carvalhal, a meticulous planner, and his players will hold their collective nerve to claim the prize that, across the season, they have richly deserved. Saturday promises to be some occasion and a perfect big-match set-up for the play-offs themselves.