Sheffield Wednesday v Bolton: Hoping the cavalry will come to rescue

Jos Luhukay walked into Hillsborough with his eyes wide open but even the experienced Dutchman must be bewildered at the size of the rescue job needed at Sheffield Wednesday.

On the way back: Tom Lees.

The job description in replacing Carlos Carvalhal – the Portuguese captain who jumped ship on Christmas Eve – was hardly enticing: chance to take on a Championship club struggling to stay afloat, with expectations sky-high after back-to-back play-off seasons, but missing virtually an entire first team due to long-term injuries.

Former Hertha Berlin and Stuttgart chief Luhukay, 54, still fancied the fire-fighting challenge.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Two months after his arrival, the injured players are starting to trickle back, but results have not improved and the Owls are languishing near the bottom of the table.

In fact, Wednesday have won just once in 10 Championship outings under defence-minded Luhukay, losing their last five games in all competitions.

It means the Owls – who are 17th, seven points off the bottom three – welcome fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers to Hillsborough, knowing pressure is mounting on the manager and team to deliver.

Not that Luhukay has any regrets at taking up owner Dejphon Chansiri’s job offer.

“I knew from the first day that it wasn’t an easy situation,” said Luhukay. “But it depends every day on the squad that you have, what you have to work with.

“I give my players 100 per cent support and I believe in them.

“We know also in the time that I am here, between 10 and 16 players have been unavailable.

“That makes the options you have not in the right way or the right direction.

“It is how it is and I give my players respect and support.

“That is why I can understand a little bit what situation we are in. We can only help ourselves to come out of this negative period.

“It is for me the same situation from the first day. It is not the easiest situation but when is there an easy situation in football?

“You always have periods in the season when it goes very well and also sometimes when it does not go well.

“Who would have thought in the summer that a club that was twice very close to the Premier League would be in the direction it is now? Nobody could have seen it before.

“This is why we must handle this situation, come out of this period and then we must look to the future.”

That horrendous injury list is finally starting to recede.

Centre-back Tom Lees made his first start in over three months in Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat to Ipswich Town, a dour game in which the hosts worryingly showed a lack of fight against limited opponents.

Midfielder Sam Hutchinson and Dutch defender Joost van Aken played an hour for the club’s Under-23s on Thursday after long lay-offs, but are probaby another week away from first-team contention.

With Scottish international Barry Bannan and Fernando Forestieri at least back on the training ground, there is a feeling that a late cavalry charge from Wednesday’s walking wounded could avert what would be a humiliating relegation scrap as the club celebrates its 150th anniversary.

Luhukay admitted: “I have not been much in a position such as this, but you always have periods when you can not win every game or you do not have an upward direction, even if you are near the top of the table.

“You must have the trust in what you do every day and in the whole staff, the medical team and the players together. It makes me not nervous, it gives me no stress. I can only see what I see every day.

“Every result, every three points, every game you win, you come back from a down direction to an up direction.”

Luhukay certainly exudes a calmness in his dealings with the media. It is a pragmatic approach which some Owls supporters – who see him stood motionless on the touchline during games – mistake for a lack of emotion.

“When you have panic you make yourself a problem,” said the Dutchman. “Panic is when someone is very sick or there is a big problem then you have a big stress and you must try to make the best of that.

“But we live in football. We are training every day and we will try to give our best so why should we panic?

“I do not understand that but I see the situation as we must try to give everything and win the game on Saturday.

“It is 90 minutes and then after that we have 90 minutes nine times more.”

Again, it is not your normal tub-thumping approach from a manager before a vital game.

It is hard to imagine similar rhetoric from previous incumbents, like the anecdotal Carvalhal or the chest-pounding Gary Megson.

Instead, Luhukay is taking the long-term approach, trying to deflect pressure away from his players.

But the reality is, with just a seven-point gap to the bottom three and several teams below the Owls having a game in hand, a positive result today is imperative.

“For me, it is a normal game,” said Luhukay.

“It is the next game that we must give the best possible performance in.

“Then we have a new situation the next week. I am not like this situation that every game you must win and every game is important.

“We know that. In football, you cannot say you can draw or lose, every game you must win.

“An important game is the next game, but we have 10 games to go. The next 10 games, every game is always important.

“This means Saturday is not a game if you win then you win the Championship or if you lose you go down to League One. It is only one of the last 10 games you have but you must try to give everything.”