WHEN Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday last convened in East Yorkshire, the rising expectation levels were largely the preserve of those clad in amber and black as opposed to blue and white.
The Tigers prevailed in the most comprehensive 3-0 win that you can imagine in mid-January – securing their sixth successive league victory in the process and moving within striking distance of the Championship’s top six.
It was a bitterly disappointing trip for Wednesday, one that prompted caretaker manager Steve Agnew to tersely answer that the visitors lacked the intensity to pick up any injuries when asked if the Owls had any issues ahead of a Cup replay at Luton.
That wretched early New Year result and performance played out in front of a sell-out Owls visiting contingent was undoubtedly one to forget, according to midfielder Barry Bannan.
He is rather more eager to dwell on Wednesday’s current status as one of the Championship form horses – just as Hull were at the start of 2019.
Bannan, a dominant force in the Owls’ sublime weekend win at Middlesbrough, which continued Garry Monk’s impressive start to life at Hillsborough, said: “We need to be bang at it like we were against Middlesbrough and start as strongly as we did and, hopefully, we can get a good result.
When you are winning games, you cannot wait to get back out there. You do not really want to train, but just play games, so long may that continue.Barry Bannan
“We will take great confidence after scoring four. When you are winning games, you cannot wait to get back out there. You do not really want to train, but just play games, so long may that continue.
“We know Middlesbrough was the standard we have set and we cannot fall below that because we have shown what we can do.”
As on any notions of revenge following last season’s pitiful loss, the Scot has an instant retort.
Bannan, stand-in captain again at the weekend, added: “You do not try to look at it like that. It is just another game at the end of the day. We take it game by game.
“We are lot better now. We are a lot stronger, so hopefully we can go and turn it around.
“We lost there last season, so they are a good team and can hurt you but it is the same as any away game in this league; no team is just going to lie down to you, roll over and just give you the win.”
Early days it may be in the Monk era, but Wednesday’s organisation, competitiveness game management and tactics so far on the road suggest that any teams who beat them on their own soil will have to truly earn their rewards.
The Owls’ discipline, structure and wherewithal on the counter-attack stymied Huddersfield in Monk’s first game in charge and his decision to pinpoint Boro’s perceived weaknesses at dealing with crosses reaped a harvest.
Both yielded convincing, if contrasting, away wins in their own way, but Monk, for his part, is not getting ahead of himself.
Monk, on the receiving end of a 2-0 loss with his Birmingham side at Hull in March, said: “The mentality, the attitude and preparation needs to be right.
“It is the foundation phase. Normally you get to put that in a six-week period in pre-season and you can lay those foundations but I have not got that luxury.
“I am working on a quicker time frame, but I am trying not to overbear the players. Before we can move on to something else, I have to get that right.
“It is a lot of the defensive roles and structure along with some of the offensive stuff that we have worked on but it is not everything. It takes time.
“I need to trust that we can do it well enough to get results and then grow that as the weeks and months go on.
“I am pleased to be winning games and taking points. We will not always be at our best, but there will be days like Middlesbrough when we are devastating and quite near the standard of where I want us to get to.”
Monk’s team-specific focus may mean that he is loathe to single anybody out for too much individual praise, but the contribution of Steven Fletcher will have been duly noted.
On his day, the forward has shown that he has few peers when it comes to bonafide Championship No 9s capable of leading the line and coming up with a healthy return of goals.
Close to unplayable for spells on Saturday, when he scored for the third consecutive league away game, Fletcher’s importance to the Wednesday cause was underlined, with his compatriot Bannan in no doubt of his standing and status in second-tier circles.
“He is unbelievable. I would say he is the best nine in this league,” Bannan observed.
“He occupies defences week in, week out.
“He is probably the best I have played with in the air and I have played with Christian Benteke and big Emile (Heskey).
“I am happy for Fletch. The strikers are scoring goals. Their confidence is sky-high and long may that continue.”
Last six games: Hull LDDDWD; Sheffield Wednesday WLWDLW.
Referee: A Davies (Hampshire)
Last time: Hull 3 Sheffield Wednesday 0, January 12, 2019; Championship.