WATCHING Sheffield Wednesday stumble to defeat in the Lancashire sunshine brought to mind one of Eric Morecambe’s most famous one-liners.
“I’m playing all the right notes,” said the funnyman to Andre Previn after the composer had taken exception to his version of the Grieg piano concerto, “but not necessarily in the right order.”
Like Morecambe in that iconic sketch from 1971, the Owls had all the right personnel on the field at Wigan Athletic’s DW Stadium on the opening day. The problem was that manager Jos Luhukay failed to deploy too many of those players in the right order.
Sam Hutchinson, for instance, played for an hour in an advanced midfield role just behind strikers Atdhe Nuhiu and Fernando Forestieri. Not only did this expose the 29-year-old’s limitations going forward, more importantly it also meant Wednesday’s backline lacked the necessary cover from midfield against a Latics side who love to get forward quickly in support of Will Grigg.
Michael Jacobs, handed the freedom of the Owls’ penalty area as a result of there being no protective shield in front of the back three, was the chief beneficiary, the midfielder netting twice in the first half and then providing the assist for what proved to be the winner via a shot that was saved to allow Nick Powell to tap in the rebound.
As Hutchinson struggled in a role that failed to play to his strengths, Barry Bannan was being asked to orchestrate things from deep. Again, Bannan’s qualities are not best suited to such a position with all his best work in a Wednesday shirt having come much further up the field.
It was a similar story in a back three that had Tom Lees on the right and Daniel Pudil on the left, either side of a less than convincing Joost van Aken.
Pudil suits such a position, but Lees does not. He, as club captain and Wednesday’s defensive lynchpin, needs to play in the middle, directing manoeuvres in a way that seemed beyond van Aken against the newly-promoted Latics.
These positional issues contributed hugely to a defeat that should have been by an even more convincing margin, Wigan having hit a post and the crossbar either side of some important saves by Cameron Dawson in the Wednesday goal.
Luhukay, who saw Nuhiu dismissed in stoppage-time for a second yellow card, admitted as much afterwards.
“I expect more,” said the Dutchman. “We had no control and when he had the ball we would lose it. We lost every second ball, every third ball.
“We didn’t have the quality required to play football, and then you don’t have the confidence and trust. We gave away more chances than we did in the last two and a half months of last season. Wigan scored three goals, but could have had four or five.”
Luhukay, thanks to Wednesday being under a transfer embargo from the Football League for breaching Financial Fair Play rules, has been unable to refresh a squad that has been horribly short of pace for some time.
This shortcoming was exposed just 11 minutes into the new season by a lightning quick break from Antonee Robinson down the Owls’ right flank.
Lees eventually came across to halt the debutant, but he could not prevent a cross that van Aken was only able to half clear to Jacobs, whose shot took a deflection en route to Dawson’s net.
Nuhiu levelled for the Owls nine minutes later, the striker capitalising on a mistimed jump by Cedric Kipe to bring the ball down and finish at the second attempt past Walton.
The Latics, however, restored their lead and again Jacobs punished Wednesday for gifting him far too much room when he drilled a low shot past Dawson.
Jacobs then unleashed a cracker of a shot that thumped against a post just before the break before helping the hosts extend their advantage on the hour, his shot being saved only for Powell to swoop on the rebound.
Luhukay’s response to falling 3-1 behind was to change things. On went Lucas Joao for van Aken and Hutchinson was switched to a much more suitable role in defence, albeit with Lees remaining on the right side of the three.
Forestieri also moved slightly deeper and this allowed the Argentinian to slip unnoticed into the Wigan area to collect a lovely pass from Joao. Typically he made light work of the finish to spark a frantic finale that saw James Vaughan hit the bar for Wigan and the Owls come mightily close to bagging what would have been an undeserved point at the finish as both Adam Reach and Joao spurned invitations to shoot before Steven Fletcher was flagged offside just as the Latics goalkeeper beat away his effort.
By then the visitors had been reduced to 10 men after Nuhiu, already on a booking for leading with his arm on Sam Morsy, clattered into Chey Dunkley.
Referee Tim Robinson, who moments earlier had booked Dunkley for goading Nuhiu over a decision going the Wigan man’s way, showed a second yellow card to Nuhiu to cap a miserable opening day for the Owls.