Sheffield Wednesday: Can the Owls hold their nerve as run-in edges nearer?

Carlos Carvalhal
Carlos Carvalhal

The finish line is in sight.

Sheffield Wednesday’s destiny is in their own hands. They occupy the final Championship play-off place.

One defeat in their last 10 league fixtures has propelled them firmly into the shake-up to win a place back to the Premier League for the first time in 16 years. Wednesdayites have waited and dreamt of this moment for such a long time.

How the team fare in the final 12 matches will define their season.

Given the Owls appointed a new head coach and brought in a whole new squad last summer, a top-six finish would be a fantastic achievement.

Anything less after a year of goals galore and free-flowing football will be viewed by many as a failure.

Fernando Forestieri is sent off

Fernando Forestieri is sent off

Of course, Wednesday mathematically can still go up automatically but their patchy away form and inability to beat the top five clubs has probably cost them the opportunity to go up that route.

The truth is, Hull City, Middlesbrough and Burnley just possess a little bit more quality and strength in depth than them.

Carvalhal said: “If you want to be big, you must think big.”

Nobody can argue that chairman Dejphon Chansiri has backed Carvalhal significantly in the transfer market. Their recruitment drive has been extremely shrewd. Very few of the club’s signings have failed to make an impact.

Yet Boro and Burnley have spent lavish amounts of money on individual players such as Jordan Rhodes and Andre Gray.

Why? Because next season will see the revenue increase even further in the top flight courtesy of a new £8 billion TV deal. They want a slice of that action. The prize on offer is huge.

Now the question is, can Wednesday can hold their nerve over the final two months of the campaign?

They have to mentally cope with being chased by Birmingham City, Cardiff City, Preston North End and Ipswich Town.

Will they handle or buckle under the pressure? Look at how Derby County fell away a little over 12 months ago. It does happen.

It truly is “squeaky-bum time” in the race to go up.

“There are no easy games in this competition,” conceded Carvalhal.

Surprises, or “accidents” as Carvalhal calls them, do frequently happen in this mad, unpredictable league.

When there is so much at stake, there is never a good time to have a little wobble. Wednesday have fired blanks in two out of their last three outings, picking up just two points. Is this a blip or a crisis?

For me, there is no reason to panic.

On Friday night, Carvalhal rotated his squad and they put in a workmanlike, professional away showing at Hull City. They thoroughly deserved their point.

What took some of the gloss off an impressive display was another poor officiating decision.

Fernando Forestieri was reduced to tears in the dressing room after receiving his second red card in as many matches.

His first yellow card at Preston for simulation was harsh but was nothing compared to his second caution in Humberside.

Somehow referee Tim Robinson penalised Forestieri for diving after he went down in a collision with Michael Turner in the closing stages of the goalless draw at the KC Stadium.

TV replays showed Forestieri was caught on the ankle by the rash, reckless challenge as he attempted to hurdle Dawson’s lunge. It was a refereeing howler.

Hull boss Steve Bruce said: “I think I would be really, really disappointed if it had been given against one of our players.

“We all know the referee’s got it wrong. The ludicrous thing is, for them it was two yellow cards which you can’t appeal against.”

That shocking, inexplicable call means Wednesday will be without their influential, talismanic forward for the next two matches.

You would like to think the Owls have got more than enough in reserve to cope without Forestieri when they take on Rotherham United and Brighton and Hove Albion but it is something they could have done without.

In a week which yielded a disappointing two points, Carvalhal reckons his team were on the receiving end of “three bad decisions”.

He questioned Forestieri’s two bookings for diving and the Portuguese chief was also unhappy Kieran Lee was not awarded a late penalty in the QPR draw. They feel hard done by.

What pleased Carvalhal, though, is the fact they collected nine points out of a possible 18 from this month.

“We played against Brentford, QPR, Burnley, Hull, Birmingham and Preston,” he said. “February was a very, very tough month.

“We were in seventh position in January and have finished February in sixth.

“It has probably been the toughest month in the season but we have jumped one position, which is fantastic. That is a big positive.”

Following a busy schedule, Carvalhal gave his players the weekend off to rest and recuperate.

Keeping morale high and the squad fresh and sharp will be vital for the run-in.

The last thing Carvalhal wants, or the players for that matter, is for all their hard work to go to waste.

One last big push is required to turn a good season into a special one.

It’s all to play for. Roll on Rotherham United.