Sheffield Wednesday v Birmingham City: Strike options can fuel Owls’ tilt - Ross Wallace

Ross Wallace: Believes experience of play-off final defeat will benefit the Owls.
Ross Wallace: Believes experience of play-off final defeat will benefit the Owls.
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ROSS WALLACE believes that Sheffield Wednesday’s big-game mentality can prove a trump card in the club’s promotion quest and give them an advantage over their Championship play-off rivals.

Sixth-placed Wednesday welcome Birmingham City to Hillsborough tonight, a second successive high-pressure Friday evening game in front of the TV cameras following on from last week’s hard-fought success at struggling Wigan Athletic.

Wednesday held their nerve at the DW Stadium to move back into the final play-off position and have stayed there since, with Norwich City and Derby County passing up the chance to leapfrog them on goal difference after dropping points.

Head coach Carlos Carvalhal’s side can move five points clear of seventh-placed Canaries with victory over the Blues this evening, in a game in which striker Jordan Rhodes is to set to make his eagerly-awaited home debut.

Wallace is confident that the hosts can intensify the pressure on the chasing pack ahead of tomorrow’s programme with another three points, which would move them within two points of Leeds United and three behind fourth-placed Huddersfield Town.

Despite performances having failed to consistently hit the heights of the 2015-16 campaign, the Scot feels that the Owls’ ability to get the job done so far this term, allied to the experiences garnered from a host of big matches in last season’s run-in, can potentially provide them with an edge on their rivals.

Wallace, who has struck three goals in his past four outings, said: “We have had the experience of last season and most of the squad have that experience of dealing with the big games and the pressure of needing to win.

“We are at that part of the season now where we need to start winning games to the end of the season. Points are more important than performances at the minute. But we want both – to perform as well.

“We are always talking and watching videos after games, seeing what we could have done better. We are always trying to improve and discover how we are going to effect teams. We do all sorts of stuff like that, but as long as you get the three points, that is of the most importance.

“We will draw upon last season and the disappointment (of losing in the play-off final). We do not want to experience that disappointment again and we want to go one further than that.”

On the particular merits of victory tonight, he added: “We want to put the pressure on our rivals, like we did last week.

“When we beat Wigan, we put the pressure on and that was important and this Friday will be just as important. It is about picking up three points and getting as many wins as you can.”

Wednesday will certainly not be lacking in the forward department during the home straight and while Steven Fletcher serves the final game of a three-match ban this evening and Gary Hooper remains a fitness doubt, the presence of Rhodes, Fernando Forestieri, Sam Winnall and Atdhe Nuhiu means that options remain plentiful.

Given the striking riches at the Owls’ disposal between now and May, Wallace admits that there are “no excuses” for him and his midfield colleagues, entrusted with creating a regular stream of chances for a striker pool whose depth is the envy of most in the Championship. That is likely to be spearheaded by Rhodes, with attention focusing on him tonight ahead of his expected first appearance at Hillsborough as an Owl following his deadline-day move from Middlesbrough.

Wallace added: “We have good (forward) quality in there and no excuses now. It is up to us as midfielders to create chances for them and give them opportunities to score goals as they are proven goalscorers.

“We are happy with the strikers we have got and look forward to going into the back end of the season.

“With the strikers we have got in such as Jordan and Sam, it will give the other strikers a lift as there is competition up top and they are going to want to score goals to stay in the team and that is the way you want it. We want our strikers all firing towards the end of the season.”

Heralding the signing of Rhodes as a ‘fantastic’ coup, the former Celtic winger said: “His goals record is second to none. He’s been outstanding and we are delighted to have him here and if we can provide him with assists and chances and get him in the box as that is where he is best, he can turn half-chances into goals.

“He is clever and sees runners when the ball is coming to him.”

Sam Hutchinson returns to the fray following a two-match ban for the Owls, who welcome Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday, with six of their next nine matches being at Hillsborough.

Last six games: Sheffield Wednesday DLWLDW Birmingham City DLDLLW.

Referee: C Kavanagh (Lancashire).

Last time: Sheffield Weds 3 Birmingham City 0; December 26, 2015; Championship.