Millwall v Sheffield Wednesday – Steve Bruce ready to face the big challenges head on at Owls

A MIDWEEK trip to Millwall in February is about as far removed from a sunshine holiday in Barbados as it gets.

But for someone whose footballing soul still beats vibrantly in Sheffield Wednesday manager Steve Bruce it represents a further part of his reintegration process back into the profession in which he has worked for over four decades.

A pulsating venue when it is packed to the rafters – and a formidable one even when it is half-full – the New Den is one of those experiences which sticks with you. Unsanitized, brutal and sometimes on the edge.

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After a relatively calm introduction to life back in the dug-out at Wednesday, Bruce will experience something more robust this evening – with the small matter of a South Yorkshire derby at Rotherham United to then attend to on Saturday.

Steve Bruce gets a warm welcome from the Hillsborough crowd on his first home match in charge. Picture: Steve EllisSteve Bruce gets a warm welcome from the Hillsborough crowd on his first home match in charge. Picture: Steve Ellis
Steve Bruce gets a warm welcome from the Hillsborough crowd on his first home match in charge. Picture: Steve Ellis

It is something Bruce is plainly relishing, with tonight being a reminder of just what he missed as he recharged his batteries and prepared himself for a return to the managerial coal face.

Bruce said: “I think that is the biggest challenge and what you miss. First and foremost, it is the every day thing of what you do in your life as this is what I have done for 40-odd years.

“But of course, there is not anything like match-day and to win on a Saturday or be involved at Millwall on a Tuesday night. Even though they (Millwall fans) will absolutely cane me, I am sure.

“There is a bit of me which thinks: ‘Bring it on, great.’

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Bruce’s palpable sense of optimism and well-being at the start of what he hopes will be a long and successful managerial chapter was gratifying to see at the Owls’ training ground ahead of this evening’s trip to the capital.

His short-term task may be to continue to lift spirits which had sagged during the Jos Luhukay era and the latter days of the tenure of Carlos Carvalhal, but he is also thinking ahead too.

As someone who has countless experience of the unpredictable beast that is the Championship, Bruce is not yet discounting a late push for the top six, even if that looks somewhat unlikely for the 16th-placed Owls, 11 points behind the side currently occupying the final play-off spot in Bristol City, with a third of the season to go.

But a more realistic and achievable aspiration is to provide Wednesdayites with some hope going forward to take into the summer – after being seduced by the fan power and potential of the club he has taken on from events on one late Spring day at Wembley in May 2016.

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The former Hull City chief, whose side reached the top-flight at the Owls’ expense on that occasion, observed: “The support is quite remarkable when you think of where the club has been and done. In that play-off final, I have never seen a support quite like it.

“I also remember seeing my son played for this club against Hartlepool years ago (in the 2005 League One play-off final) and thinking: ‘Wow, bloody hell, what a following this lot have got’. And that was in League One.

“We have got a wonderful fanbase. My main aim is getting the place full again and to the levels of a few years ago since that (play-off semi-final) loss to Huddersfield.

“It has got all the bits that are required. I would love to say I will be here four years like I was at Hull and if I do that, I know I will have done okay.”

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As Bruce has correctly opined, patience will be required to transform Wednesday’s fortunes over time – and a little bit of luck too during the club’s business in the forthcoming transfer windows.

It is no trade secret that the days of Wednesday shelving out considerable transfer sums to bring in players are over for the time being, with the club – like many others at second-tier level – treading carefully in the transfer market to ensure they comply with Financial Fair Play regulations.

For Bruce, it represents perhaps the stiffest aspect of the job he has taken on, but he spies hope and an avenue of opportunity all the same.

“That is the challenge for us all, we are under no illusions,” he added.

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“The difficulties are transfer windows. We have got the summer and then January and all of a sudden, I have been here a year...

“It would take me six windows to turn it around. Two-and-half years.

“It is not long when you think of it.

“Nothing really happened in the last window as people do not want to let their good players go.

“Now in the summer, you can register your interest with the big clubs and use your connections and can you get two or three young ones from Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal?

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“That is what we did at Aston Villa and Hull, The loan ones can be just as important as those who you bring through your doors.”

Last six games: WLDWDL; Sheffield Wednesday LWWLWD

Referee: T Robinson (West Sussex)

Last time: Millwall 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1, February 20, 2018; Championship.