Sheffield Wednesday welcome chance to draw breath ahead of charge for play-offs

STEVE BRUCE’s bid for a fifth promotion to the Premier League is building momentum.

Job done: Happy Owls after a 4-2 win against Blackburn. Picture: Steve Ellis

Yet Adam Reach is relieved that the brakes are temporarily being applied.

Bruce has enjoyed a 10-match unbeaten start in charge of Sheffield Wednesday, claiming 20 points in the process.

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Instead of looking over their shoulders at a relegation fight, they are now just two points off the top six so has the two-week international break come at a bad time for the Owls?

Not a bit of it, states attacking midfield man Reach, who helped the Owls to a fifth win under Bruce and against his former Middlesbrough manager Tony Mowbray.

“It has been the same core group of players, the same 13-14 players who have played a hell of a lot of games so we need to get the rest in and enjoy time with family and friends before getting back into it for an exciting run-in,” said Reach after a thrilling 4-2 win which reversed the scoreline from the previous meeting at Ewood Park.

“It is nice to play game after game when you are winning but I have played a lot of games and it is the time of season where you need to be fresh not just in your body but mentally as well. The rest will do me and everyone else good and give everyone a new lease of life and a little bit more energy going into the last month-and-a-half.”

The Owls certainly did not look jaded although, for a side who had kept six clean sheets under Bruce, they did look vulnerable at the back at times.

Having twice led both Birmingham City and Hull City to the Premier League, Bruce said regarding chances of a nap hand: “We have given ourselves a squeak haven’t we? At Birmingham, we were 15th with 12 to go but came roaring into the play-offs and won it. We have given ourselves a chance. We have some big games, tough games. None are easy in this Championship so that’s what makes it the spectacle that it is.

“We will recharge the batteries and get ready for the run-in. Bring it on and let’s enjoy it.”

Of his best start as a manager in charge of his ninth club, Bruce continued: “I did not think that would be possible going 10 unbeaten but I will take it, that’s for sure.

“As a manager, you try and blow a bit of confidence into players who haven’t got a lot of it for some reason and you try and simplify the whole thing. More importantly, the players themselves sometimes need an arm around a shoulder to remind them what good players they are. My staff, those I inherited and brought in, have given me a great start.

“In my previous job (at Aston Villa) I couldn’t buy a win, now I have had two in a week. It doesn’t make sense does it but when you come into a job you want to make a difference, make an impact but I didn’t think we would go 10 unbeaten – fantastic, well played the players.”

Wednesday’s next home assignment after a trip to Stoke is against the Villa and all Bruce, way too experienced to get drawn into contentious comments about the club who sacked him last October, would say to that with a smile was: “Now, now, stop it.”

Bruce reserved special praise for experienced striker Steven Fletcher, who set out on his career under Mowbray at Hibernian.

Fletcher made it five goals in the last six games by nipping in to tap home an early opener for the Owls as Mowbray claimed “it was men against boys” as he was forced to field an inexperienced defence with three internationals out through injury.

Of his striker who has been hampered by injury for long spells, Bruce said: “The big problem with Scotland was playing on artificial pitches and if you have a funny knee it’s the worst thing you can do. He manages himself very well and he is a model pro. I can’t speak highly enough of him. If anyone has bought into what we have brought he’s epitomised everything we have wanted.

“He has been terrrific. His goals, the way he has led the team, the way he is, I have been absolutely delighted with him.

“My biggest concern is his groin and the biggest headaches I have at the club are, in terms of what we have inherited, are long-term injuries. What we have is scary.

“We were on 10 (players out) today which is a colossal sum. Let’s hope they can get fit and stay fit for the run-in.”

Bruce had made just one change from the side that started in midweek against Bolton Wanderers, giving another player on the comeback trail from injuries, Sam Winnall, the nod for his first Wednesday start since August, 2017, partnering Fletcher up front with Atdhe Nuhiu dropping to the bench.

Nuhiu replaced Fletcher and headed home with his first touch in the 60th minute in a match that was played in torrential rain.

Blackburn were a threat and substitute Craig Conway struck back in the 72nd minute but right-back Dominic Iorfa settled Owls nerves seven minutes later as he made it 3-1 and another substitute, Marco Matias, struck the fourth before Blackburn showed resolve as Elliott Bennett made it 4-2 in the 88th minute.

Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood, Iorfa, Lees, Hector, Palmer; Reach, Hutchinson (Pelupessy 9), Bannan, Aarons; Winnall (Matias 58), Fletcher (Nuhiu 58). Unused substitutes: Fox, Thorniley, Boyd, Dawson.

Blackburn Rovers: Raya, Reed (Conway 55), Nyambe, Magloire, Williams, Bennett; Travis, Evans (Buckley 68), Rothwell; Dack, Graham (Armstrong 68). Unused substitutes: Leutwiler, Smallwood, Brereton, Nuttall.

Referee: J Linington (Isle of Wight).