Starting our build-up to Friday’s Sheffield derby, Richard Hercock looks at the difficult position Wednesday manager Jos Luhukay finds himself in.
Jos Luhukay could be forgiven for having a feeling of deja-vu heading into Friday night’s Steel City derby.
For the Dutchman’s first Championship match after being appointed Sheffield Wednesday manager – back on January 12 – was the short trip to neighbours United.
Then, like now, Wednesday were a club in crisis. Carlos Carvalhal had left on Christmas Eve, and the Owls had tasted victory just once in their previous 11 outings.
By contrast, Chris Wilder’s Blades were the division’s surprise package and still basking in their 4-2 demolition of Wednesday at Hillsborough earlier in the campaign.
So for the Owls to emerge with a 0-0 draw, and a solid defensive display, was a moral victory for Luhukay on debut.
But fast-forward 10 months, and Wednesday return to Bramall Lane with their desperation for a similar result clear to see.
Four successive defeats have seen the Owls slide towards the Championship relegation zone.
In January, Wednesday went to Bramall Lane on the back of a demoralising 3-0 home loss to Burton Albion – who would would finish the season being relegated.
On Friday, the Owls will be looking to make amends after a humiliating second-half Hillsborough collapse, which saw them surrender 4-0 to Norwich City.
Together we must fight through this bad period, and hopefully get back to success. We can only help ourselves and that is what we must try to do in the next few days.Jos Luhukay
Owner Dejphon Chansiri was confronted outside the stadium after the final whistle, by fans calling for the manager to be sacked.
But 55-year-old Luhukay – the former Hertha Berlin and Stuttgart boss – is too experienced an operator to panic.
“Maybe it’s the same situation as when I first came,” he said. “It was my first game, also not a nice period for Sheffield Wednesday with all the injured players.
“Every game is new, you have new chances to get success, and that is also for Friday. We will try to win the game.
“We have a lot of experienced players in the team today. They know what the atmosphere in the Championship is, and they have played a lot of derbies, I think.
“It all depends how you are as a team, have trust 100 per cent in a good game. You must believe in that, what you are fighting for.
“We are having the worst period we can have, the last four games. But before that we had a good period.
“Now is a period which nobody expected before the international break, losing four games.
“But it’s happened and together we must fight through this bad period, and hopefully get back to success.
“We can only help ourselves and that is what we must try to do in the next few days.
“We do not have too much time to get back in a positive way.”
While results have not been positive this season – just five league wins in 16 games, and the worst defensive record in the Championship – Luhukay’s constant tinkering with formations and personnel has puzzled many Owls supporters.
In recent games captain Tom Lees and on-loan Chelsea defender Michael Hector have not been immune from the axe.
No settled team, no clean sheets this season, and a second-half display against Norwich which offered little hope things will improve quickly.
But shambolic defending negated any formation Luhukay employed against Norwich; be it a traditional four-man defence, or opting for three centre-backs and wing-backs to operate as a 5-3-2.
And the Dutchman knows patching up his leaky defence is key if the Owls are to get anything from Friday’s trip across the Steel City. “We play in different formations with our defenders, but believe me, whether we have a system or formation, when we gift goals so easily it has nothing to do with playing three, four or five at the back,” he said.
“You must win your one-against-one, and not stay too far away from your opponent.
“These goals we have conceded, I am 100 per cent sure they have nothing to do with playing three, four or five (in defence), you must stay together so when you make a mistake another player can help you.
“Everyone can see we are not consistent enough in our defending work. You cannot win games when you give goals so easily away.”
Luhukay has been in charge for 37 league games at Wednesday since arriving in January, winning 12, drawing 10 and losing 15.
This season, that amounts to 17th place in the Championship – two points better off than pre-season relegation candidates Rotherham United – but just four points clear of the bottom three.
“I am not looking at our position, for me it’s not interesting where we are at this moment,” insisted Luhukay.
“The most important thing for me is we come to success. If you have success, winning games, then the position in the league will also change.”