Sheffield Wednesday v Luton Town: Injury-hit Winnall hoping '˜dark days' are over at Owls

AS an avid Arsenal fan, Sam Winnall understandably has a soft spot for the FA Cup.

Sheffield Wednesday's Sam Winnall (Picture: Steve Ellis)

Not only have the Gunners lifted the famous old trophy 13 times in their history, one more than nearest rivals Manchester United, but the most recent trio of those Cup final wins have come in the past five years, allowing Winnall to be present at Wembley.

Considering who has just been appointed Sheffield Wednesday manager, the 27-year-old striker might want to keep quiet about the first of those triumphs in 2014.

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Steve Bruce’s Hull City raced into a two-goal lead inside the opening eight minutes only to be beaten 3-2 by Arsene Wenger’s men in extra-time.

It was the closest Bruce, assisted that day by Steve Agnew and Stephen Clemence, has come to adding a major trophy to a managerial CV that boasts a record four promotions to the Premier League.

Winnall admits being a part of a fifth success for Bruce is a big motivation for the Owls’ squad following this week’s unveiling of Jos Luhukay’s successor.

That, though, is for the future with today’s sole focus being on a competition that the Wolverhampton-born striker admits gets his adrenalin flowing.

“I have some good memories of the FA Cup,” said Winnall to The Yorkshire Post. “As an Arsenal fan I have been to countless finals. Seen us win quite a few.

“As a player I also scored a hat-trick in the FA Cup. I was at Barnsley and we played Burton (at home in November, 2014).

“For me the Cup has a special feel. I know what it means to fans because I have experienced it as a fan myself.

“It throws up opportunities. Last season I was at Derby County and we played away at Old Trafford.

“That was a great experience in front of more than 70,000 fans. That is what the FA Cup is all about. Magical moments are to be had, as a player and as a fan.”

Unlike last season’s third round, Winnall will not be running out in front of anything like a full house at Hillsborough.

Nevertheless this is an important tie for Wednesday on the back of a festive period that not only brought eight points from a possible 12, but also the return of a feelgood factor to S6.

Winnall has been sporting one of the broadest smiles after two cameos from the bench that brought to an end a horrible 10 months for the striker.

Having suffered a serious knee injury in February, the former Barnsley striker returned to action with the Under-23s in the autumn only to break down again with a hamstring problem.

“Mentally that was the hardest part of the rehab,” added the striker. “When I did the original injury I knew it would be a long time.

“But then to get so close and suffer a setback was a challenge in itself. Not just because you have to deal with the new rehab, more the mental side as it takes you back five or six steps.

“You have to stay strong. There were obviously dark days when I got really down. But I knew I would be able to get myself back. That is half the battle, the mental side and believing you will come back stronger than before.”

Winnall’s return last Saturday preceded the appointment of Bruce later in the week.

The former Tigers manager will not officially take charge until February 1 due to a variety of reasons, the most pertinent understood to relate to the terms of his departure from Aston Villa on October 3.

Nevertheless Bruce met the squad for the first time on Wednesday and he had plenty to say to his soon-to-be new charges.

“His message was all about having a clean slate,” said Winnall. “How everyone starts at zero, every shirt is up for grabs.

“That is what you want to hear as players when a new manager comes in. He knows the squad, this league and what we are capable of.

“The gaffer wants us to look forward rather than behind us or dwell on what has already happened.”

Such advice is music to the ears of Winnall after a difficult 2018.

“The third round is a bit of a new start anyway,” added the Owls striker. “It is the start of a new year. As players we cannot influence when the manager comes in.

“All we can do is focus on our performance and, hopefully, get the results.

“This is a time when we can really kick on as a team, hopefully starting against Luton in the Cup. That has to be the aim.”