MATCH PREVIEW SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY VS BIRMINGHAM CITY
Rewind back to September. Wednesday had just lost 4-2 on home turf to city rivals Sheffield United. Next up was a trip to struggling and managerless Birmingham City who were searching for their first win in nine matches. Prior to the game former Owls boss Carlos Carvalhal made national sporting headlines when he screwed up a 20 pound note in his pre-match press conference. The aim was to describe how despite an embarrassing defeat to United, Wednesday still held value. This was another one of Carvalhal's popular analogies which are currently charming pundits and journalists in the top division. Yet the metaphor clearly did not have the desired effect on the team as the Owls were defeated 1-0 at St Andrews. A disappointing loss against a struggling side which served to foreshadow the remainder of Carlos' reign at Hillsborough.
Fast forward to today and both sides are now under new management. Similarly both sides are competing at the wrong end of the table, which both sets of supporters would perhaps not have anticipated at the start of the campaign. Six points separate Wednesday in 16th on 33 points and Birmingham in 20th on 27 points. The Owls are floating just above the relegation quagmire aiming to not get dragged in. Whereas Birmingham are firmly in it looking to tow themselves out.
The positive spin on the Owls recent league form is that new man Jos Luhukay is undefeated and has kept three clean sheets in a row. The negative spin is that the Owls have not scored a goal or won in the league since the 3-0 victory over Forest on Boxing Day. That is over a month without a goal in the football league. Nevertheless, overall January must be seen as a successful month for the Owls. Luhukay has inherited a depleted squad bereft of confidence and has seemingly instilled a regime based on discipline and organisation. Not to forget that Wednesday have advanced to the fifth round of the FA Cup for the first time since 2014 with victories over Carlisle and Reading.
Birmingham will be a new test for Luhukay. His past three previous league fixtures have been against sides pushing to be in the promotion picture come May. Birmingham, on the other hand, are fighting at the opposite end of the footballing spectrum. This time Wednesday will go into the game favourites and, for me, this will place a different kind pressure on the Owls. Saturday is a good opportunity for Luhukay to register his first win and end the barren run in front of goal in the league.
Wednesday are likely to name a similar side and formation to the one which drew with Boro on Tuesday night. Glenn Loovens was rested in the week and may make a return to the starting eleven. However, he will have a task on his hands to dislodge young centre back Jordan Thorniley who has performed admirably in his last two outings. Marco Matias also missed the Boro game with a thigh injury. Luhukay confirmed it was nothing serious and hopefully the Portueguese man can return to the squad. It would be good to see Matias start. Impressive displays in the Cup have merited a start in the League and he could provide that creative spark which is lacking in the final third at the moment. Barry Bannan and Tom Lees could soon be ready to rejoin the fold which finally gives Wednesday something to cheer about in the injury department. But the match this weekend may be a bit too early for their comeback.
Since the controversial sacking of Gary Rowett in December 2016, fortunes have not been so kind to the Midlands side. His replacement Gianfranco Zola took the club from 7th place to a relegation fight in less than six months. Understandably the Italian was relieved of his duties. Harry Redknapp took charge for the final three games and managed to keep them up on the last day of the season. The former West Ham and Spurs boss signed a one year deal with the club following their survival. A manager with considerable experience coupled with a healthy budget to compete, many tipped Birmingham to challenge at the top end of the league. Therefore you can appreciate the frustration shown by Birmingham fans following their poor start to this season, the departure of Redknapp and the subsequent struggle for points.
However, Birmingham have now picked up 10 points from a possible 15 as they look to steer clear of the drop. A strong 3-0 victory over relegation adversaries Sunderland in the week will give the Blues confidence when making the trip up to Sheffield. As a result, Steve Cotterill's men have climbed out the relegation zone for the first time in two months. The Blues are likely to be without midfielder David Davis and former Owls winger Jacques Maghoma who are injury doubts. Both players have been important in the Blues upturn in form. This gives a chance for club record signing Jota to shine. The summer addition has struggled to make his mark on the team since his arrival from Brentford.
A danger-man for the visitors is towering centre forward Sam Gallagher who is on loan from Premier League Southampton. The frontman has scored 4 goals in his last 6 games. Quick and strong he is one for the Owls defence to watch out for.
HEAD TO HEAD FACTS
• It has been just under a year since the last time these two sides met at Hillsborough. The Owls won 3-0 with Sam Winnall and Jordan Rhodes scoring their first Wednesday goals.
• The Owls have won their last 4 encounters with Birmingham at Hillsborough.
• In fact Birmingham have not won at Hillsborough since 2006. A 3-0 dominant display with Cameron Jerome and a young Nicklas Bendtner inflicting misery on the night.