Michael Hector believes a settled back four has helped plug Sheffield Wednesday’s leaky defence.
Since the departure of manager Jos Luhukay – often criticised for continuously rotating his players and formations – the Owls have named the same defence in five consecutive games.
Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Luton Town in the FA Cup was Wednesday’s third clean sheet in that sequence.
While there were obvious frustrations amongst the 16,974 crowd that Wednesday could not conjure a winner against their League One opponents, the Owls never looked like conceding.
For a team who had the worst defence in the Championship prior to Christmas, conceding just two goals in five outings has been a real shift in fortunes.
On-loan Chelsea defender Hector, alongside fellow centre-half Tom Lees, plus full-backs Liam Palmer and Morgan Fox have started the last five games in a four-man back line.
Apart from a couple of half chances, Luton – so prolific in League One with 49 goals in 26 games – rarely had a sniff, as Wednesday added another clean sheet to those picked up against Preston North End and Middlesbrough over Christmas.
“It’s been tough the amount of games we have played, but it’s good to have that consistency with the back line,” said Hector.
“It will help us in the long run, knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, because, before, we were chopping and changing quite a bit.
“It’s helpful as a back four – back five if you include the goalkeeper – to know what each other is going to do.”
Steve Agnew – in temporary charge for his first game, before the arrival of Steve Bruce next month – kept faith with the defensive unit set-up by caretaker-manager Lee Bullen.
Hector, on a season-long loan from Chelsea, praised the work done on the training ground by Bullen since Luhukay’s exit.
“It’s not nice for someone to lose their job, he (Luhukay) brought me to the club,” said the 26-year-old. “Bully has come in and just kept things simple, kept our shape compact, and made sure we are tight at the back.
“We know we have players who can create opportunities and score goals.
“We had been shipping a lot of goals, but Bully has helped with our shape, and you can see from our performances we are a lot more compact.
“We got the clean sheet, wanted the win, but it wasn’t to be, and we have to take care of the job away from home.”
While Agnew can be pleased with Wednesday’s defensive display, going forward was a different story.
Maybe it was the hangover after a hectic festive schedule, but the Owls struggled to create.
Losing Sam Hutchinson to a groin injury in the first half did not help – the midfielder making his fifth appearance in two weeks after being sidelined since August – while the influential Adam Reach had an afternoon to forget.
Barry Bannan seemed most likely to create an opening, and twice in the first half the midfielder picked out Steven Fletcher, but the Scotland striker failed to find the target with his headers.
When Marco Matias twice broke free of Luton’s stubborn defence, Luton goalkeeper James Shea was on hand to tip over fierce rising shots.
It meant Wednesday are in tonight’s hat for the fourth-round draw, but they must travel to Kennilworth Road a week tomorrow for a tricky replay.
“Luton have been flying in League One, they are a honest team and they were really up for it,” said Hector. “We knew it was going to be tough, they brought a good following. We just had to stick in there and grab our chance. Obviously, it wasn’t to be, but we are still in the hat, that’s the positive.
“We got another clean sheet, which we have managed in the last few games.
“We know Luton are a good side, I know a few of their players. They are a very attacking side.”
With no midweek games this week, Wednesday’s players can spend time on the training ground with new coaching staff Agnew and Stephen Clemence, ahead of Saturday’s trip to Hull City, who Hector played on loan for last season.
“Now it’s all about working hard,” said Hector.
“The games have gone, so we can get a few training sessions in, as there hasn’t been much time for things like that. It’s going to be a good week, working and training with new ideas, and see how things go from there.”
The Owls will be keeping their fingers cross midfield duo Hutchinson and Bannan (knee) can shrug off their injuries before the weekend.
Agnew, who joked he expected a phone call from manager-in-waiting Bruce after Saturday’s game, said: “With Sam, he just felt his groin a little so it was sensible for him to come off.
“Barry took a whack on the knee near the end.
“Both of the lads have been with the physios and will be assessed from there but, hopefully, they will be okay.”
Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson, Palmer, Lees, Hector, Fox, Boyd, Bannan, Huchinson (Pelupessy 26), Reach, Matias (Winnall 58), Fletcher (Nuhiu 75). Unused substitutes: Wildsmith, Thorniley, Baker, Shaw.
Luton Town: Shea, Stacey, Pearson, Bradley, Justin, McCormack, Shinnie, Berry (LuaLua 82), Lee (Jarvis 89), Hylton, Collins (Mpanzu 66). Unused substitutes: Grant, Jones, Isted, Sheehan.
Referee: R Jones (Merseyside).