Sheffield Wednesday boss Carlos Carvalhal believes Hull City will be the Owls’ toughest game of their Championship season so far.
The Tigers still boast a wealth of Premier League talent despite dropping out of the top-flight in May.
Steve Bruce’s side sit in fifth place, just four points off early season Championship leaders Brighton, ahead of tomorrow’s Yorkshire derby at Hillsborough.
Victory for the Owls in the televised lunch-time clash could see Carvalhal’s team join Hull on 18 points.
But the Owls head coach is wary of Hull’s undoubted talent – including £10 striker Abel Hernandez – and fears it will be the sternest test yet of his resurgent Owls team.
Before the two-week international break, Wednesday had won four successive games including an impressive win at St James’ Park against Newcastle United in the League Cup.
“We are looking forward to the game,” said Portuguese coach Carvalhal. “We have missed Hillsborough.
“It will be a very hard game, Hull City. I consider it the hardest game we have had, as of this moment.
“They are a good team, have a good coach, and were relegated last season and have a lot of players with experience in the Premier League.
“We know they are one of the strongest teams in the Championship.
“But, at the same time, I know we will be difficult for Hull also because we are playing very well, improving our football and the atmosphere in the dressing room is very good.
“I hope some players can do better than they did in the past, with the expectations, and the signs on the training ground are very good.
“I think our fans also know we have a very hard match, and we will need them to help us on Saturday.”
Wednesday’s form at Hillsborough under Carvalhal has improved this season, three wins already in the bag compared to a meagre five in total in 2014-15.
That new-found form at S6 has raised optimism levels, with tomorrow’s match the first of four Hillsborough games in 17 days.
Wednesday have back-to-back away games at QPR, on Tuesday, and Rotherham United, on Friday, before three successive home games starting with a League Cup tie with Arsenal, before visits from Nottingham Forest and Brighton.
It’s a formidable set of fixtures, but Carvalhal’s focus is on Hull and he believes he has identified weaknesses in their set-up which the Owls can exploit.
“All teams have strong points and weak points,” he said.
“Hull City have more strong points than weak, but there are weak points which we will try and exploit to the maximum.
“We know they can do a lot of good things and we must have a strategy to score goals, stop the opponents and exploit their weak points. This is good for us, because it is a challenge. The players like a challenge.
“There is no need for any extra motivation this weekend, all the players are motivated to play.
“Hull are a strong team, experienced in the Premier, it is not a usual team from the Championship – they have something a little different. We understand, we have a strategy for the game.”
After allowing striker Caolan Lavery out on loan this week – the striker joined league Two side Portsmouth – the Owls could allow several more fringe players to depart.
But Carvalhal – consistently linked with a move for Norwich City striker Gary Hooper – insists no new arrivals are planned at Hillsborough.
“We are not planning to bring in anybody,” he said. “But you never know in football. Like other clubs in England, we have open eyes to send players on loan.
“Our antennae are up, looking at everything.”
Carvalhal’s education in English football has been brisk, and he revealed yesterday that he has had to re-evaluate some of his early season conclusions.
He had feared Wednesday had a problem by allowing opponents back into games, despite being in front on the scoreboard. Wins over Fulham, Brentford and Preston saw the Owls take the lead, dominate, before their opponents battled their way back into the contest.
But after watching numerous other Championship games, he now believes it is a common symptom of English football’s second tier, where every team has spells in a game where they can cause damage to their opponent.
“Day by day I am learning more and more about the Championship,” he admitted.
“I saw other games in this league and it’s not a problem for Sheffield Wednesday, it’s the way that you play in the Championship.
“I considered it a problem (when I first arrived), but it’s not.
“In all the games in the Championship, you have moments in the game when teams winning 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, then the other team – who have attributes to win – can break the opponent down.
“In these moments you must be very strong in the way you protect the ball.
“In the beginning I felt we had a problem, but if you look at other games, it happens all over.”