Rochdale v Sheffield Wednesday – Owls benefitting from fast learners Matt Penney and Joost van Aken

AFTER so many summer departures, the focus at Sheffield Wednesday has been on new faces this season but two players returning from loan spells away have already shown they can contribute to their three-at-the-back system.

Sheffield Wednesday's Matt Penney has impressed Owls manager Garry Monk. Picture: Steve Ellis

Matt Penney and Joost van Aken spent 2019-20 on loan in the German second division but have shown themselves well suited to Garry Monk’s formation. Both will be looking to build on that at Rochdale in tonight’s League Cup second-round tie.

Penney’s involvement has been no surprise with Monk having talked him up towards the end of last season but Saturday brought the 22-year-old from Chesterfield’s first start under him, earnt with a man-of-the-match performance as a 60th-minute substitute against Walsall in round one.

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Van Aken’s 16th Championship start, more than two years after his 15th, was less expected, coming about because summer signing Chey Dunkley has not yet fully recovered from the double leg break which ended his Wigan Athletic career, and Julian Borner was ill.

Sheffield Wednesday's Joost Van Aken battles with Cardiff City's Kieffer Moore during Saturday's win in South Wales. Picture: Steve Ellis

Penney has returned from a loan at St Pauli looking the part as a left wing-back.

“I said last season, especially towards the end, I’d kept in good contact with Matt throughout his loan and watched his games,” commented Monk. “I was very excited to have Matt back in the squad.

“He is young, hungry, dynamic and with the technical ability as well. It’s good to see it in a match scenario, he’d been showing it in training.

“He has the attributes (to excel), the athleticism, the quality with the ball. He attacks the box from a defensive point of view.

Sheffield Wednesday boss Garry Monk shares a joke with goalkeeper Cameron Dawson after the match at Walsall. Picture: Steve Ellis

“It’s probably more the defensive side of it we need to do more work on. Offensively, he’s got that natural ability to pick certain movements and to arrive at the right time. That’s a real big advantage.

“I think it’s more the defensive side of it, the mentality towards it, being able to sustain that aggression consistently, that will be the key to him. That’s not just the matches, that’s every day in training, but at this point he’s been doing well.

“He’ll definitely be one that improves, he just has to stay focused.

“I think last season has given him a great experience.”

It is probably fair to say less was expected of van Aken, but fellow centre-back Dominic Iorfa thinks the 26-year-old Dutchman’s qualities on the ball make him a good fit too.

“I hadn’t played with him before but he came in and defended well,” he said of van Aken’s seasonal debut in the 2-0 Championship win at Cardiff City.

“He was solid and really good on the ball. When he has time to play, you saw him pick passes into the strikers and that helps us massively, especially in a game like Cardiff when it is a bit scrappy.

“You need someone to get the ball down and play.

“You need to be comfortable in possession to play three in the back and he is very good.

“First and foremost, you have got to defend and he did that really well against Cardiff.

“He came out on top of a big, physical challenge and he didn’t really give the ball away in possession which is key in this formation if you want to play it well.”

Osaze Urhoghide is back in full training after a knee injury while Dunkley has started light work, but both are likely to be asked to prove their fitness in the Under-23s before playing for the seniors.

Tonight’s winners will travel to the victor’s of tomorrow’s game between Ipswich Town and Fulham in the third round, which takes place next week.

Last six games: Rochdale LWWWLL; Sheffield Wednesday WDLLDW.

Referee: S Stockbridge (Tyne and Wear).

Last time: Rochdale 1 Sheffield Wednesday 2, January 25, 2014, FA Cup.

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Thank you, James Mitchinson. Editor.