Sheffield Wednesday v Reading: Big man, little man combination can keep Owls on target – Nuhiu

Owls strike force Atdhe Nuhiu and Stevie May

Owls strike force Atdhe Nuhiu and Stevie May

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Sheffield Wednesday supporters were doing their Christmas shopping last season by the time the Owls had chalked up a dozen points.

A terrible start under Dave Jones meant the Owls had only picked up 11 points before the manager was shown the Hillsborough exit door and replaced by coach Stuart Gray at the beginning of December.

What happened then is well documented; Gray transformed rock-bottom Owls into a stable Championship outfit and this season has seen the them swiftly out of the starting blocks.

Twelve points from their opening seven Championship games, six clean sheets in nine outings, and a juicy trip to Premier League champions Manchester City to come on Wednesday night in the Capital One Cup has left spirits high in S6.

One man who embodies the team’s work ethic and renaissance is Austrian striker Atdhe Nuhiu.

He struggled to come to terms with the English game last season, but his never-say-die attitude endeared himself to the Owls support.

Nuhiu has been a regular under Gray this season, repaying his coach’s faith with four goals from nine games.

And the striker – nicknamed ‘Big Dave’ by supporters – believes the club’s struggles last season only served to galvanise the squad.

“I have enjoyed it at Wednesday from day one,” said Nuhiu.

“We had a bad start last year, which nobody expected, but this makes you stronger, in your own personality.

“How we came out of the situation was incredible, nobody thought it was going to happen, how we did it.

“This made us stronger, and now we are playing well, everyone is enjoying it more because of that.

“When you win games you wake up happy.

“The most important thing is if we lose one, like against Nottingham Forest, the reaction we showed in getting four points from two away games (a 0-0 draw at Bolton and 2-0 win at Birmingham) showed that.

“This is the most important thing because you will lose a game, this is football.”

Wednesday are eighth this morning, but what is realistic for a club whose transfer budget is dwarfed by most Championship rivals?

“To play in the Premier League with Sheffield Wednesday,” stressed Nuhiu.

“I don’t just say this, I believe it. It’s a massive club and should be in the Premier League.

“If I can be a part of it, our team, to take them up then we will be happy.

“This year, the season has just started and we need to look at it game by game. But the way we are playing now, it’s really good, everyone can see that.

“What’s going to happen in the end, we will see. But there is belief that this club can be back again in the Premier League, this year or in a few years. If it keeps going like we are going now, it will be sooner than people 
think.

“I said before the season top 10 is the target, if we get higher I will take it.”

When cosmopolitan strike formations are all the rage in modern football, Nuhiu plays in tandem with summer recruit Stevie May. It’s a throwback to the traditional big man, little man combination and is so far working for Wednesday.

Nuhiu’s goals have seen the Owls beat Premier League side Burnley at Turf Moor in the cup, but he has also helped May settle in since arriving from Scotland, providing both assists for the international’s two goals in the blue and white stripes.

May netted in the midweek win at Birmingham, and was unlucky to see a ‘goal’ chalked off for an infringement against Bolton a week ago.

It all leaves 25-year-old Nuhiu optimistic for the future.

“I am very positive about my partnership with Stevie May,” said the former Rapid Vienna striker.

“That ‘goal’ against Bolton I think was a regular goal.

“Against Birmingham I gave him a pass to score the first goal. I think our communication is really good with each other.

“I have already given him two assists so maybe he can give me one back,” he smiled.

“It’s difficult for teams to mark us. We have one player tall and strong, the other quicker and sharper, so they always have to watch out for us as we can punish them in any situation.”

The only negative of a promising campaign for Wednesday is they are yet to win at Hillsborough in the Championship, a worrying run which stretches back to March 25 last season.

They were pegged back to 1-1 against Millwall after a stoppage-time equaliser, held last season’s Championship play-off finalists Derby County to a 0-0 draw, while high-flying Nottingham Forest claimed a 1-0 win in front of the television cameras.

Three wins and a draw away from Hillsborough have powered Gray’s side up the table, but with a 30,000 crowd expected today for the visit of Reading – due to a discounted ticket offer of £10 adults, £5 concessions – Nuhiu believes it is time to restore the balance.

“We made 10 points from our away games and now it’s time to get three points at Hillsborough,” he said. “Everybody is waiting for that, we are too. We need to get the three points for the supporters.

“Playing in front of a big crowd is always a positive pressure. People come and expect something.

“Against Millwall we were unlucky to concede a last-second equaliser.

“Against Forest it was really disappointing to lose.

“I can’t really explain, because even our performances at home were impressive. After the Forest game supporters clapped us after the game and showed what sort of performance we put in.

“Sometimes football is not fair, but we know how to deal with it.”

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