Sheffield Wednesday: What has happened to the swaggering Owls of last season?
Whether Sheffield Wednesday win, lose or draw, Tom Lees always stops to speak to the press in mixed zones after matches.
The Brighton and Hove Albion fixture was no exception.
And the Owls centre-back didn’t mince his words after Carlos Carvalhal’s men snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
“It was frustrating and we have only got ourselves to blame,” he said. “We threw it away.
“Big teams don’t do that sort of stuff. Big teams get results.”
Lees nailed it.
There is no shame in losing to a strong Brighton outfit who look destined to go up but it was the manner of the defeat that will rankle for some time.
Wednesday’s game management left a lot to be desired. After Brighton were reduced to 10 men, the three points were there for the taking down on the south coast.
With the scores locked at 1-1, Fernando Forestieri’s second-half penalty was superbly kept out by David Stockdale, who then somehow twisted and finger-tipped the forward’s second effort inches past the post.
Despite 20 minutes of non-stop pressure, the Owls failed to make their numerical advantage count. The visitors could not find the breakthrough and old foe Anthony Knockaert, who was outstanding throughout, broke their hearts in the dying minutes.
It was a big opportunity missed.
Lees acknowledged: “Brighton is a tough place to go and we were under the cosh in the first half. We will probably accept that they were on top, but we started the second really well.
“We were in absolute control and we were then helped by the red card and a penalty.
“Brighton have been doing well at home but we missed the chance to beat them and, more importantly, missed the chance to go closer to them.
“I’ve seen Brighton quite a few times this season and they’ve not necessarily been outstanding but they find a way to win and don’t do things like we did the other night.
“Big teams don’t do what we did on Friday as you can’t afford to.
“We were punished and that’s why we are sixth and are in the play-offs and not up in the automatic positions.”
So much needs addressing.
The reality is, Wednesday aren’t anywhere near as pleasing on the eye as they were last season when their slick, possession-based football lit up the division. Home or away, the Owls guaranteed goals and entertainment.
We have seen only fleeting glimpses of their intricate passing. Forestieri’s strike at Fulham capped off a wonderful team move.
Too much of their build-up play remains slow and predictable. There is a lack of tempo and urgency to the ‘tippy tappy’ football
Not enough players are taking responsibility in possession and trying to make things happen. The first thought seems to be the safe option when you want the team to express themselves. There are lots of sideways and square passes these days. Let’s have more risks taken.
Only Barry Bannan and Adam Reach showed any positive intent at the Amex Stadium. Their driving runs put Brighton on the back foot.
Where has the confidence and swagger gone in the final third? Despite the hefty financial outlay, the Owls have lacked a cutting edge all season.
I get that the expectation levels have increased and opponents show them far more respect now, particularly at Hillsborough where teams come to stifle their creative talents.
I get that Wednesday are no longer a surprise package and everybody is out to get them. Carvalhal, to his credit, has turned the Owls into a prized scalp.
But this is an expensively-assembled Wednesday squad and the truth is they should be performing much better.
The Owls have received criticism for their summer recruitment drive and few individuals have come in and excelled.
After the play-off final, Carvalhal stated he wanted upgrades. Their business should have focused on minor tweaks. A major overhaul was not necessary.
It does, however, appear Wednesday have bought quantity over quality, prompting Carvalhal to recently admit they could do with trimming the size of the squad as they possess “too many players in the building”.
Places will be up for grabs when they resume their Championship campaign at Bristol City, who are in freefall, next week. Steven Fletcher and Sam Hutchinson are banned following their daft, avoidable sendings off against Brighton. Both are experienced pros and should have known better.
Fletcher was given his marching orders following a flare-up with Dale Stephens and Hutchinson picked up his second red card of the season after collecting a second booking for bringing down Solly March.
Carvalhal claimed: “The players lost emotional control and we must control that kind of behaviour.
“Of course there is frustration because we were playing so well and we deserved to be winning the game, but these things happen in every team in the world and we must work to prevent them in the future.
“The thing we must control is the emotion of the players. If it was still 10 verses 11 with some time still remaining then maybe we could have achieved something.”