Giles Coke has challenged his Sheffield Wednesday team-mates to show they can cope without captain and defensive lynchpin Anthony Gardner.
It was nearly six weeks ago Gardner was carried off on a stretcher in the first half of the Owls 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough after suffering an Achilles injury.
The 33-year-old is expected to be sidelined until February, having undergone surgery in London last month to repair his snapped Achilles tendon. The Staffordshire-born player, signed on a free transfer in the summer of 2012 after being released by Crystal Palace, had started all of the club’s opening six fixtures.
In Garnder’s absence, Wednesday have failed to record a win or keep a clean sheet.
Dave Jones men have shipped in 18 goals in 11 outings in all competitions this season, collecting a meagre six points from a possible 30 on offer in the Championship. Jones has given the captain’s armband to Reda Johnson.
Coke has told The Star that they can ill afford to dwell on Gardner’s setback as they look to tighten up their leaky rearguard.
But he admitted: “Anthony is our captain; if you took any team’s captain away from them, they will be missed hugely. He is a very good player. He is our leader. Everyone looks up to him. It was a big blow when he got injured.
“But it has happened now and we need to move on fast and really start winning matches.”
Since losing Gardner, Jones has tried different combinations at the heart of Wednesday’s defence, pairing Roger Johnson with Kamil Zayatte and recently Miguel Llera. But, despite tinkering with personnel and tactics, Jones is still searching for a winning formula.
Injuries have deprived Jones of several first-team regulars, including Gardner, Lewis Buxton and Reda Johnson.
“We can’t use injuries as an excuse because we have got players who can come in and fill those spots,” insisted Coke. “Every team gets injuries. “We need to defend better as a team and cut out the silly mistakes we are making as a team. You can’t just blame the defenders. You have to look at the whole team. If you are keeping clean sheets, you are always giving yourself a good chance of picking up some points.”
“It is a big boost for us having Lewis back as he was our best player last season. He will only make us stronger.”
Coke had no complaints over being withdrawn after 43 minutes of last week’s draw with Ipswich Town.
“I was not having the best of games and was feeling a bit tired after the Brighton game,” he said. “Every player is disappointed when they come off, but I respect the manager’s decision.”