Owls seek marathon effort as troubles mount up

Wednesday's Tom Lees.
Wednesday's Tom Lees.
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Sheffield Wednesday will be glad to see the back of August.

Since Carlos Carvalhal arrived at Hillsborough in 2015, Wednesday have only won three games out of 15 matches in the opening month of the campaign.

Fernando Forestieri.

Fernando Forestieri.

The fact they finished the first two seasons under the Portuguese coach in the top-six supports Carvalhal’s oft-used phrase that the Championship is a marathon not a sprint.

Five points from the opening five games in August in 2015-16 and 2016-17 means Wednesday are actually a point better off after the opening month this term.

But with nothing less than promotion seemingly acceptable this season – when Wednesday celebrate their 150th anniversary – the Owls know they must improve, and quickly.

Defeat at Preston North End, along with draws against QPR, Sunderland and Burton – a 1-0 win at Fulham their only success – means the Owls are already nine points behind leaders Cardiff City in the fledgling table.

Last year, Wednesday won four out of five Championship outings in September and face a tough set of fixtures this month – six games in three weeks – if they are to repeat that feat.

After today’s televised visit of Nottingham Forest, Brentford arrive at Hillsborough on Tuesday night, before a trip to early leaders Cardiff.

Then comes back-to-back Yorkshire derbies at S6 against the Uniteds of Sheffield and Leeds, with a midweek trip to Birmingham City in between.

“We can’t afford to give up too much ground (at the top) so we need to get going,” said Owls defender Tom Lees.

“September is a big month and we will play some good sides.

“Forest have started pretty well, we have got Cardiff who are flying, derbies coming up.”

After twice failing in the play-offs under Carvalhal – who was yesterday given a two-man touchline ban after his bust-up with opposite number Phil Parkinson last month at Bolton Wanderers – and with millions pumped in by owner Dejphon Chansiri, expectations have risen to the extent that the target of promotion is not even a debate.

Lees confirmed: “I think we have to get promoted this season, whichever way we do that.

“The team which we have got, the squad here, that is our only target. That’s what we will be judged on.

“I don’t think the start has been great, to be honest. We have always been in the games, but that is not how we are being judged this year.

“We are not judged on being in tight games. Even Preston when we got battered and never got going in the game, we lost to what was – in my opinion – a dodgy (penalty) decision. I know we could have been 5-0 down before that, but we were still in the game.

“But that’s not our expectations this year. I think that’s been the case in every game, it’s been tight, but now we are being expected to dominate and win games.

“We haven’t done that. The first month has been a good gauge, because we have played some good teams.

“We are seen as a big name now, so everyone raises their game to come and play us.

“But we haven’t really dominated or blown anyone away yet, so that’s something we need to start doing.

“We have been okay, and that’s probably how I would sum us up. We have been okay, not anything special, been on top for 90 minutes.”

Wednesday’s pedestrian start to the season has not been helped by injuries to key players like Glenn Loovens, Kieran Lee and Sam Hutchinson.

Yesterday, Fernando Forestieri was ruled out for three months, the striker due to have surgery on his troublesome knee next month.

But, at least, the Owls have drafted in reinforcements before the transfer window closed, with the arrival of Derby County midfielder Jacob Butterfield, and centre-halves Frederico Venancio and Joost van Aken.

The latter two bring much-needed cover, with Lees being the only fit centre-half at the club.

“Both look good, really good guys and have settled in quickly,” said Lees.

“But training is different to playing games, and it’s been a bit broken up with having players away.

“They have not been here a long time, so they are just settling in.

“When you look at defences, they are best when they are settled. It would be nice to get a bit of continuity going.

“But when you are at a big club, you always have lots of good players so you got to be able to deal with people going in and out. Everyone just needs to know their job for when they are called upon.

“It will be good to have a good number of players in each position, playing in their right position, at a good level.

“You have to be 100 per cent every week, and it adds that competition, which is good. People get injured, suspended, and it’s a long season.”

Argentinian striker Forestieri will have his knee operation next week and is not expected back before Christmas.

Carvalhal confirmed: “His surgery will be as soon as possible, I think at the beginning of next week so he can start to recover as soon as possible. I’m disappointed for him because he wants to play and to help the team.

“But we don’t feel we are not strong in the competition because we lose one or another player.

“I like him a lot, he can make a big difference but this is the reality and I wish him to come back as soon as possible.”

Carvalhal, who was also fined £4,000 by the FA for the Bolton incident, will sit in the stands today and Tuesday’s game against Brentford.