Sheffield Wednesday: Owls ready for Royals backlash

Glenn Loovens is doubtful because of his hamstring problem
Glenn Loovens is doubtful because of his hamstring problem

Wednesday are unruffled by the prospect of Reading being spurred tomorrow by the amazing Hillsborough clash between the clubs.

The Owls pulled off their first win of the season in sensational fashion, thrashing the fancied Royals 5-2 in November.

But Nigel Adkins’ team are now on form, having won four of their last five games, and have the incentive of trying to make up for that shock defeat.

Stuart Gray said: “Looking at their team, quite a lot of the players from that day are still playing. Nigel will probably use it to his benefit, saying: ‘We owe these one.’

“But we go there full of confidence; we’re 10 games unbeaten; it’s a nice stadium, a nice pitch; they’re one of the so-called big-hitters and they’re on a decent run.

“But we don’t fear anybody. We’ll be organised and prepared; at the moment the games can’t come around quickly enough for the boys.

“Ninety per cent of the game is confidence. We have that belief that even if we go a goal down we can get back in it.

“Heads haven’t dropped. Early in the season, probably the heads might have dropped through lack of confidence. But the players are so full of confidence.”

Although the team are also six points clear of the relegation zone, Gray says that there is no chance of complacency creeping in: “I’ve always said to the players that I’m a great believer in looking upwards and seeing who we can claw back.

“We’ve clawed back Blackpool, Bolton, lets keep going and see where it takes us.”

While Reading have had mostly a settled side during their recent successful run, Gray has been beset by problems: trying to get strikers in after the departure of Connor Wickham and Matty Fryatt, who were both among the goals in the home game against the Royals, and seeing his plans continually disrupted by injuries and suspensions. Glenn Loovens’ calming influence has been missed, and with Oguchi Onyewu ruled out for weeks by a calf muscle tear, Miguel Llera was left as the only fit centre half in the build-up to a game featuring two opposition strikers who have scored 22 goals between them this season: Adam Le Fondre and Pavel Pogrebnyak

Gray admitted: “We have a a bit of a concern about Glenn. He’s had a little jog at three-quarter pace. We’ll leave him until the last minute.

“We’re trying to get players in at the back and up front.”

Gray is keeping to himself what he will do if Loovens is unfit and he is unable to make a loan signing.

Reda Johnson (groin) and Lewis Buxton (thigh) normally could cover at centre half, but they are still out, as are Martin Taylor (knee) and Kamil Zayatte (ankle) with Zayatte also facing an operation that is likely to keep him out for the rest of the season.

Gray has the options of plunging Michail Antonio straight back into the starting line-up, either out wide, in his main position, or up front, where he has done a job in the past; or putting him on the bench and perhaps starting with last week’s front two, Benik Afobe and Atdhe Nuhiu.

The Owls boss is not giving up on signing Connor Wickham before the March loan deadline, but admits: “Obvously Fletcher (Sunderland striker) has tweaked his Achilles: Gus (Poyet) said he was going to keep Connor for two or three weeks and see how it develops.

“But in two or three weeks there might be a problem with another striker; we desperately want Connor to come back; the boy wants to come back; we are keeping that door open, but we still have to look elsewhere as well.”

“We have Antonio back, so that might relieve us a bit, but I tend to like playing round pegs in round holes.”

Gray also deflected the credit for his Championship Manager of the Month nomination to the players and said that Chris Kirkland deserved his nomination for Player of the Month.

He said: “It’s great when you see the names (other nominees): Harry Redknapp, Billy Davies, Nigel Pearson. But it’s the players that get you these rewards and push your name forward.

“People have said to me it can be a poisoned chalice at times.

“I must be doing something right, which is good. But the players deserve all the credit.

“It (Kirkland’s nomination)) shows what qualities Chris has produced. He’s pulled off some big saves for us.

“He’s probably the in-form keeper in the Championship at the moment. Credit to him and his professionalism.”.