Fulham v Sheffield Wednesday - Pressure off for Garry Monk and Owls

Owls boss Garry Monk. Picture: Steve EllisOwls boss Garry Monk. Picture: Steve Ellis
Owls boss Garry Monk. Picture: Steve Ellis
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY manager Garry Monk is shrewd enough to realise that the occasions when his side will play without significant pressure on their shoulders are likely to be few and far between during 2020-21.

It is a season that will not be straightforward for any club – with the Government’s announcement that the phased return of spectators into sports stadiums has been paused reinforcing that very fact.

For Wednesday, the difficulties are exacerbated. They must contend with the financial ramifications of having no supporters at home matches and no fervent ‘Twelfth Man’ type backing in a season which, in Monk’s words, presents the biggest challenge that the club has faced ‘for a long, long time.’

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On the pitch, having started the English Football League season on minus 12 points after breaking spending rules, every Championship match carries extra significance for Wednesday, pitted into something akin to a relegation fight before a ball was kicked.

Owls' Liam Palmer.Owls' Liam Palmer.
Owls' Liam Palmer.

Respite is likely to be scant and even two opening Carabao Cup engagements at Walsall and Rochdale possessed an element of stress as the Owls sought to avoid the perils of defeat against lower-league opposition.

Tonight at Craven Cottage, expectation is lessened by the fact that they face a Fulham side who find themselves back in the top tier.

Beaten 4-3 at Leeds United in the Premier League at the weekend, Scott Parker’s side have already conceded seven goals in two league matches this term – in a testing start to the campaign.

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It is not Wednesday who face the questions ahead of this evening’s tie by the River Thames, but the hosts.

On the notion of the Owls having little to lose this evening, Monk – whose side have kept four successive clean sheets in league and cup this season – said: “I think so, playing against a Premier League side, all we have got is our own standard.

“We want to perform to our own standard and you have seen that in the cup games so far, especially up against Rochdale and through all the league games.

“If we can keep up to our own standards, we know we have got a good chance of beating anybody.

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“At the end of the day, it is a Premier League club away from home. It is a tough ask.

“We will go down there, keep on doing what we have been doing and showing the right attitude to try and win the game and play well”.

With the welter of the expectation likely to be on the shoulders of Fulham, Wednesday can also play with that bit more freedom.

League points will not be on the line this evening as the Owls seek to make it into the fourth round of the competition for the first time since 2015-16, a season when they reached the quarter-finals after memorably knocking out Arsenal and Newcastle United along the way.

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Monk, whose side lost 5-3 in a fluctuating league game at Craven Cottage just over two months ago on July 18, added: “It is tough, we are probably the team in the league with the biggest challenge; more than any other club.

“We know that and what it is and are trying to make the best of it.

“There will be a bit of freedom for us in terms of going to a Premier League club for a cup-tie, but like anything, we are just trying to build everything all the time.

“It is a difficult game, but one we will look forward to. We deserve to be there and we will have a good go at it.

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“We have done very well in the cup in these last two rounds. We want to try and make sure that in this third round we do just as well as we have in the last two.”

Monk changed his entire starting XI for last weekend’s Cup win at Spotland and with Wednesday facing a long away league trip to face Bristol City at Ashton Gate on Sunday, he is likely to adopt a pragmatic approach to selection and utilise his squad again.

The likes of Ciaran Brennan, Liam Shaw, Alex Hunt and Fisayo Dele-Bashiru all started at Rochdale and Elias Kachunga, Adam Reach and Liam Palmer – who were substitutes in the goalless draw with Watford last weekend – are also likely to be given another run-out from the start.

Julian Borner and Moses Oubuajo, who have both not featured in the club’s opening two Championship match-day squads, are also expected to be handed some game-time alongside Joey Pelupessy against a Fulham side who have not won at home since beating the Owls back in July.

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The pair have met twice in the League Cup in its various guises with Wednesday progressing on both occasions in 2012-13 and 1984-85.

This evening’s tie kicks off at 7pm.

Last six games: Fulham WLWLWL; Sheffield Wednesday LLDWWD.

Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).

Last time: Fulham 5 Sheffield Wednesday 3, July 18, 2020; Championship.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson

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