Sheffield Wednesday 0 Wolves 1: Misfiring strikers not to blame for Owls’ home woes, insists Lees
Tom Lees insists Sheffield Wednesday’s strikers should not shoulder all the blame for their Hillsborough troubles.
Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers –Kenny Jackett’s team came into the game having lost their previous five matches – left the Owls with a shocking home record of just five goals and two wins from their 10 Championship games this season.
Chief culprit was £800,000 summer signing Stevie May, who spurned numerous chances, while fellow striker Atdhe Nuhiu was largely anonymous in front of goal.
Both could not be faulted for their efforts, but Wednesday are desperately short of quality in the final third. Of 16 attempts on Wolves’ goal, only two were on target.
Only joint leaders Middlesbrough have a better defensive record than the Owls, meaning their hopes of challenging for promotion this season is being undermined by a lack of goals.
It’s an issue which centre-half Lees – who has struck up an impressive partnership with Glenn Loovens in the heart of the Owls defence – insists they are working to put right.
“We are all behind him (May),” said Lees. “No-one is getting on each other’s backs, or digging each other out.
“We will give each other constructive criticism, but we have every faith in Stevie (May) and Atdhe (Nuhiu). That’s not an issue. No-one is falling out over it.
“The only way to get better is if we address it between ourselves and do something about it.
“It’s not just down to the strikers, we haven’t scored enough from set-pieces. We just need to keep providing them with the chances, but you can’t just pin it all on the strikers.”
Owls boss Stuart Gray felt his side could have been 3-0 ahead after the opening 20 minutes and he was not wrong.
When Scotland international May rounded Wolves goalkeeper Carl Ikeme, following Richard Stearman’s weak back pass, a sixth-minute goal looked a certainty with an unguarded net.
But a tame left-footed shot was hoofed off the line by the retreating Stearman, and May’s afternoon did not get any better.
His finishing did not match his incisive movement, and trickery, that on another day would have seen him walk away with a hat-trick.
Loovens missed with a close-range header, Royston Drenthe drilled his shot wide, but Wednesday could not put the ball in the net in a dominant opening 45 minutes.
Wednesday have not beaten Wolves in 50 years of trying at Hillsborough, spanning 15 games, and they were given a couple of scares.
First goalkeeper Keiren Westwood rushed out to put off Danny Graham, who fired wide, before Rajiv Van La Parra – who also had a goal ruled out for offside – blazed wide after Westwood foiled Kevin McDonald.
The second-half was an end-to-end, open game, and the Owls again pushed for a goal with May, Kieran Lee and Drenthe all going close.
But Wolves substitute Leon Clarke – the former Owls striker – pounced with his first touch of the ball in the 84th minute to tuck away McDonald’s left-wing cross.
“We can only blame ourselves,” said former Leeds United defender Lees. “I thought we absolutely dominated the first half, we had so many chances we could have been 5-0, 6-0 up.
“You could just see that happening, the game got a bit open, we didn’t play as well the second half.
“We got punished. We switched off, gave them a bit too much time, and it was a sucker punch.
“We felt we played so well in the first half, created a lot of chances, but we didn’t work the goalkeeper enough. We are all disappointed. We have given away a few soft goals lately. But you score as a team, you defend as a team.
“Looking at the results today, we missed a chance to climb up (the table). But we have to get over it and move on to next week.”
At least that is away to Fulham, with Wednesday’s form on their travels impressive, the total opposite of their Hillsborough record.
It is an issue the Owls players accept they must put right – and quickly.
“We haven’t done well enough at home, we are all aware of that,” added Lees.
“It’s something we talk about as a group.
“We have to get the ball in the box, not turn down the chance to cross, have people in the box – breaking their necks to get in there.
“We have got to be efficient when we get our chances. If we had been efficient today, we could have had six or seven goals.
“But when we aren’t finishing it’s up to us at the back to keep the back door closed and we didn’t do that.
“We have got to take the positives from the first half and learn from the second half.
“If it’s not going to be your day, we need to close up ranks and not get beaten, and we didn’t do that today.”
After Saturday’s trip to Craven Cottage, the Owls face the bottom two in the Championship. They play host to Blackpool on Boxing Day, before travelling to Wigan on December 30.
Lees believes Wednesday – currently 13th in the table – need to pick up points from these fixtures to avoid being dragged into the bottom half of the Championship.
“Fulham is a big game,” he said. “We talked about these three games, that we wanted a good haul so we were cemented in that top half when the new year comes around.”