Sheffield Wednesday manager Tony Pulis looking to recruit after Preston defeat
Pulis’s opening match, a 1-0 defeat at Preston North End, underlined the first point but highlighted the scale of the job in hand.
January will be crucial for Pulis. Tellingly, when asked about his new assistant he highlighted ex-Sheffield United and Rotherham United midfielder Mike Trusson’s recruitment expertise.
The problem with regularly changing managers is it tends to present them with the tools to do different jobs to the one they want. Pulis teams are big and powerful but at full-time he highlighted his relatively diminutive players and questioned their hunger in the tackle.
Most of all, though, Wednesday are desperately light on goals. Garry Monk signing Jack Marriott has picked up a calf injury likely to keep him out until 2021, but in 12 league games, they have scored just six times.
Saturday was not a day to judge Pulis on that because, 17 minutes in, centre-forward Josh Windass was sent off after putting his studs into Joe Rafferty’s chest innocently but clumsily challenging for a bouncing ball. His three-match suspension will further unbalance the squad and sucked what little attacking intent there was out of it at Deepdale.
Despite giving up three-quarters of the ball, in just a few days Pulis had instilled the defensive organisation that is one of his hallmarks, limiting Preston to next to nothing until gambling on a second striker to chase a late equaliser. The goal came from Keiren Westwood’s error and a brilliant volley by Tom Barkhuizen.
But the hosts kicked off with a Championship home record of played five, lost five, scored one. They pointed 18 speakers at the pitch to pipe in artificial crowd noise but it did little to enhance a flat game or their team.
Given a squad rebuilt for 3-5-2, Pulis named three centre-backs and two centre-forwards, yet played 4-5-1. Central defender Joost van Aken was at left-back – a familiar theme for Pulis-watchers – and right-back Moses Odubajo on the left wing, a throwback to his Leyton Orient days. Callum Paterson, signed by Monk to play up front, was in central midfield.
“People think Paterson is a forward but I’m not sure he is,” said Pulis seven days ago. Once Windass, horribly isolated until his dismissal, went off Paterson was leading the line until the 80th minute.
Carlos Carvahal signing Jordan Rhodes was nominated to speak to the media on Thursday and as a journalist said to him, that usually only happens to those expected to play. That even with five substitutes available he sat on the bench for 74 minutes says something about what Pulis thinks of him. Elias Kachunga – signed by Monk to play centre-forward despite usually being used wide by Huddersfield Town – was one of six unused substitutes. Izzy Brown, recruited as a midfielder, partnered Rhodes late on.
“(On the) outside I had an opinion that the team and the squad needed strengthening and it certainly hasn’t changed,” said Pulis.
Westwood was added to the squad list after being shunned by Monk but the summer’s economising means there are still two slots available for free agents.
“I’ll see what comes up,” said Pulis. “I think in the past sometimes this club has chased players and you don’t get them and fill in with people who are maybe not what the club really needs. If we get the opportunity to bring in one or two, that will be massive.”
Explaining the appointment of former World Snooker Association sponsorship manager Trusson, Pulis said: “David Kemp, my (long-time) assistant, couldn’t come because of an illness to his mother-in-law and Mike has worked with me since I was at Bournemouth in different areas. He brings a lot of experience, not just of football but recruitment as well. We took him from Celtic (where he was European scout).”
It was not that Pulis’s first game was without positives.
At 10 versus 11 in the first half, Wednesday looked more likely scorers, Massimo Luongo twice breaking to shoot, and there was no let-up in the defensive resolve after Westwood – in his first senior game since a year ago today – came for a cross but due to his foot slipping and straining over a crowd punched to Barkhuizen.
Tom Lees was commanding on his return to central defence and partner Julian Borner perhaps looked as assured as he has all season. The Owls had one good second-half chance when another Pulis staple – the long throw – fell for Odubajo to drag wide.
Defensive foundations have been hastily laid but inevitably, days into a new job, there is much for Pulis – and Trusson – to do.
Preston North End: Rudd; Fisher, Huntington, Bauer, Rafferty (Stockley 46); Ledson (Pearson 72), Johnson; Barkhuizen, Potts (Gallagher 46), Sinclair; Riis (Maguire 72). Unused substitutes: Earl, Bayliss, Storey, Ripley, O’Reilly.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood; Palmer, Lees, Borner, van Aken; Odubajo (Rhodes 74), Paterson (Brown 80), Luongo (Pelupessy 62), Bannan, Reach; Windass. Unused substitutes: Penney, Dele-Bashiru, Shaw, Wildsmith, Hunt, Kachunga.
Referee: D Webb (Lancs).
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