as the countdown to the new football season draws to a close, football reporter Leon Wobschall gives his verdict on Yorkshire’s clubs and offers his five key things that each team must improve.
For Sheffield Wednesday supporters, the 2014-15 season was a story of parsimonious defence on the one hand, but profligacy up front on the other.
The Owls’ vital statistics were eye-catching, if not entirely for the right reasons.
On the plus side, they equalled a club record of 17 league clean sheets in a season with their rearguard being the embodiment of solidarity, with a formidable last line of defence blocking rivals’ way in the shape of Kieren Westwood, named by his peers in the PFA Championship team of the year.
The Owls’ defensive stinginess equalled the exploits of Jack Charlton’s class of 1979-80, no mean feat that.
Only the promoted duo of Bournemouth (37) and Norwich City (48) and play-off finalists Middlesbrough (37) conceded fewer league goals than Wednesday (49).
Now for the not so good news....
The Owls’ league goals tally of 43 was better only than the relegated trio of Millwall (42), Wigan Athletic (39) and Blackpool (36).
Their miserable haul of 16 home goals at Hillsborough was the lowest in the entire Football League along with York City - and their account of five league wins in 23 games on home soil was only marginally better than Wigan and Blackpool.
Wednesday’s top-scorer in the league was Atdhe Nuhiu with a meagre eight Championship goals.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce where the Owls’ priorities are next season and new head coach Carlos Carvalhal will need to address that to ensure his maiden foray in English football is a successful one.
Here’s five things for Carlos Carvalhal men to do if they are to achieve their aims in 2015-16.
1: Hope that the signing of Lucas Joao comes off in terms of goals and another marksman would be nice too.
Towards the end of the campaign, former Owls head coach Stuart Gray increasingly sang from the same songsheet and bemoaned the same old story. Goals or a lack of them. Wednesday’s potency in the attacking department was thoroughly lamentable and while Atdhe Nuhiu had some good days - just ask Middlesbrough - they were too infrequent.
Strike partner Stevie May also failed to acclimatise to life in the Championship with his haul of seven goals a big disappointment, considering that he scored goals for fun for St Johnstone the previous season.
Top strikers cost top dollar and the onus this summer was Owls recruitment team to stump up the cash or come up with a few gems for competitive fees, never easy.
They have chosen the former option in shelving out a seven-figure fee to sign Portugal under-21 striker Lucas Joao from one of Carvahal’s former clubs Nacional, with several other forwards including Kenwyne Jones also linked.
At the weekend, Carvalhal urged fans to be patient with Joao, who needs to get acquainted with Championship life. But in reality, given the Owls outlay on the Angolan and the misfiring nature of the club’s forwards last term, patience certainly can’t be infinite with the club - and Carvalhal - ultimately needing him to deliver fairly quickly.
As for the rest of the Owls’ striking pool, Sergei Bus had a patchy introduction to English football last term, not helped by injury and too much pressure should not be placed upon the shoulders of young Caolan Lavery, who has potential but is still a work in progress. The Owls need seasoned operators at the business end, you would venture.
You sense Carvalhal will need some early results or patience coudl wear thin at boardroom level and in the stands and while his experience of English football is minimal, you sense he won’t need telling twice about the importance of his forwards delivering.
2: Lewis McGugan unlocks the door and improves the supply line to the forwards.
Without the ball, the Owls were organised and disciplined and in terms of keeping their team shape, they were clearly among the best in the division last season, which is tribute to Stuart Gray’s skills as a technocrat coach of some repute. But with it, the Owls too often lacked guile, spark, magic, the X-factor - call it what you will. Spontaneity and off-the-cuff attacking play was conspicuous in its absence for large swatches of last term - although the commitment and work ethic could not be questioned.
Carvalhal is a known fan of entertaining and attactive football, which is music to the eyes of Wednesdayites and is described as an enlightened coach and fans will be hoping the likes of McGugan can prosper under him and be given creative licence.
The permanent capture of loan player McGugan, whose positive play at times and ingenuity with the ball was a breath of fresh air.
3: THAT pitch....
There was no tears shed as the wretched pockmarked surface at Hillsborough was ripped up shortly after their final home assignment of the season against Leeds United. In mitigation regarding the Owls lack of innovation on the pitch, a desperately poor surface - comfortably the worst in the Championship alongside Blackpool’s - hardly helped with ‘playing a certain way’ the modus operandi for both the Owls and visiting sides at Hillsborough for most of the season. It was often a case of having to play the percentages, be pragmatic and utilising set-pieces, although it has to be said that poor surfaces don’t totally preclude ball-playing footballers.
Just look at the seventies when plenty of talented players excelled on a plethora of rank-bad surfaces, which were often the norm. But a vastly-improved surface at Hillsborough will be welcomed, for sure - by home players and the paying public among others. It won’t be an excuse next season.
4: Keep Kieren Westwood.
The Republic of Ireland custodian had a restorative campaign to savour at Hillsborough and while his shot-stopping prowess was without question, his organisational skills in marshalling a back four should not be under-estimated. Behind every good defence is an excellent goal keeper, who exudes composure in his back four, who you sense are mighty glad to have Westwood behind them. If the rumours are to be believed, Westwood’s performances have attracted levels of interest from the top-flight. Wednesdayites will be desperate for him to stay.
5: Walk the walk in the transfer market.
It’s been a big summer for the new broom at Hillsborough and chairman Dejphon Chansiri, with the shock exit of a proven transfer operator in Adam Pearson, someone with a vast contacts book that Wednesday were clearly hoping to utilise, representing a blow that the Owls could have seriously done without.
The Owls’ transfer forays took time to gather speed, but the signings of Lewis McGugan and Marco Matias have proved eye-catching additions and have shown the club mean business, with Wednesdayites hoping that several more recruits arrive, with the Owls still looking light in several areas. Optimism is abound again after the arrivals of the likes of McGugan, Joao and Matias, but supporters’ appetites haven’t been sated.