Sheffield Wednesday v Huddersfield Town: Smiling Owls laying foundation for success both on and off pitch

Owls captain Glenn Loovens
Owls captain Glenn Loovens
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Sheffield Wednesday have changed their owners, head coach and a number of players in 2015, but captain Glenn Loovens believes the main reason behind an upturn in fortunes at Hillsborough has been the new pitch.

Last season, Wednesday won just five times at Hillsborough in 23 Championship matches, netting 16 goals.

Victory over Huddersfield Town today would see the Owls equal that tally of victories in just nine games this term under new head coach Carvalhal.

It has been an amazing upturn in fortunes at S6, and Loovens believes he knows the reason why.

“The only big difference from last season is the pitch,” he said. “It was dreadful last year. They spent a lot of money and the pitch is amazing, which helps.

“Now we go into home games with pleasure and a smile on our faces. It’s going well and hopefully we can keep our home run going and give the fans something to cheer about.

“It has been a big factor – 100 per cent. It takes 50 per cent of your motivation away if you are stuck in the mud up to your ankles.

“Every player wants to play on a good pitch so it was a necessity to do something about it, which they did – so credit to the people who work hard on it.

“It was impacting on the players and we picked up injuries.

“We wanted to play football in the right way, but it wasn’t possible on that pitch. It had a huge impact.”

The influx of attacking talent, like Fernando Forestieri and Lucas Joao, has also helped Wednesday reach ninth in the table, four points off the play-off spots.

Joao, 22, was rewarded for his fine start to the campaign with a full debut for Portugal this week, and Loovens has been impressed with his new team-mate.

“He’s a very good player,” he said. “He’s young, quick and athletic. He has got everything to become a good striker.

“Sometimes I have to give him a little kick in training to slow him down. He takes it well.

“He is still young and there are still things he can improve. He knows that himself and he trains hard every day in training, but he has got all the attributes to be a top, top player.”

Loovens is one of Hillsborough’s elder statesmen and, under new owner Dejphon Chansiri, the centre-half has seen a change in culture.

The Dutchman said: “We have come a long way.

“If you saw the club a couple of years ago, they were struggling, not only on the pitch but also off it as well.

“There is a good vibe at the moment involving everyone at this club. The owner has done his bit, so it’s our turn to do it on the pitch.

“The same people work at the club. It’s just the people above and players that have changed.

“It’s a nice, warm club and the staff do everything they can for you where they can. You can feel that they are expecting a bit more now because they have put a lot of money into the club, and rightly so. It is time for us to do the right thing on the pitch.”

Loovens is enjoying his time at Wednesday, and the 32-year-old admits he would be happy to see out his career at Hillsborough.

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “I am really enjoying myself and so are my family, which is really important to me. They are happy.

“We will see how things go. In football, nothing is certain but I am enjoying myself very much here.”

And aspirations to return to the Premier League with Wednesday?

“Every player wants to play at the highest level and I’m no different,” he replied. “I think there is nothing better than the Premier League.

“But we have still got a long way to go. It is nice to be thinking about it and should give us extra motivation.

“We have to take it one step at a time and not think too far ahead.”

The partnership of Loovens and Tom Lees is firmly established, but the arrival of Michael Turner – on loan from Norwich City – has brought competition for places. The latter has been out injured, but returned to training this week.

“Tom’s quite young for a centre-back,” said Loovens. “To play consistent at this level like he is doing is very impressive.

“He is still improving year by year and I’m sure he will keep doing that as well.

“We have a lot of competition and Michael Turner was running again on the pitch (yesterday) so hopefully he will be back fit soon. It keeps Tom and I on our toes.

“I am feeling fine. I just had some problems with my hamstring, but everything is sorted now and I am ready to go.”

Wednesday will have to change their midfield line-up today with Sam Hutchinson starting a two-game ban and Barry Bannan out with an injured ankle. Likely replacements are Jose Semedo and Jeremy Helan.

“They have been two key players for us this season,” admitted Loovens. “They run so much and it helps all of the team to play well. They work incredibly hard on and off the ball so they will be big misses.

“But we have a big squad and I’m sure the players who will step in will have no problems.”

Carvalhal is hoping the two-week international break has helped loan striker Gary Hooper boost his fitness.

Since joining from Norwich City last month, the striker’s chances have been limited as he lacked game time at Carrow Road.

“He’s getting better, he hadn’t played for a long time,” said Carvalhal. “We can see a big difference in the way he arrived, and this moment. We can’t say he’s completely ready, but he’s in a good way.”

Wednesday lost 3-1 at Charlton before the international break, a game which ended their 11-match unbeaten run, although the setback has not unduly worried Carvalhal. “When you play a game, and me or the players don’t understand why we lose, that’s a problem,” he said.

“In this game it was very easy to explain why we lost. The opponent had more energy than us. It wasn’t because we didn’t give our maximum, or didn’t try to win. The opponents had more energy because we had played a lot of games.

“Our team is now back again, full of energy, and I expect the team to be back again on Saturday.”