Sheffield Wednesday: Owls aiming to ensure they fulfil their promotion potential

It was all just a bit... meh.

Manager Darren Moore felt Sheffield Wednesday got their performance against Gillingham 80 per cent right on Saturday.

The Owls did not play badly – not when they had two thirds of possession and 22 shots. Terrible teams do not go 10 matches unbeaten. Eighth in the table is not a crisis.

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They are okay.

But Sheffield Wednesday ought to be more than okay at this level – not just because of their prestige, their stadium or the number who regularly attend it – those things count for little in reality in League One – but because of the depth and quality of a squad they invested heavily in by the standards of the division this summer.

They ought to be beating teams like Gillingham, unable to fill their bench through injuries, more interested in running the clock down than adding to a 22nd-minute goal by former Owls academy player Vadaine Oliver.

Moore hit the nail on the head at full-time: “We don’t want to be the nearly men,” he said.

They should not have drawn five of their last six league matches, even given how they are collecting injuries. Jack Hunt and, tellingly for Saturday, Lee Gregory, joined the list last week days after Massimo Luongo and George Byers were scrubbed off it. But they still had a striker who four years ago cost £12m on the bench. Saido Berahino could not score either when he came on for the final half-hour.

Sheffield Wednesday's Florian Kamberi (second left) celebrates scoring the Owls' equaliser against Gillingham at Hillsborough. Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA

Okay is an achievement for some League One clubs, a disaster in the eyes of others. The more grounded teams – or at least some of them – often do better than the more excitable ones.

When you have 20,593 watching at your famous ground, and big-name substitute strikers, opponents tend to visit in belligerent mood.

The Owls have beaten Sunderland, Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic this season but not Morecambe, Shrewsbury Town, Oxford United, Wimbledon, Cambridge United, Lincoln City or Cheltenham Town. It is almost as if we should not judge teams on their club’s reputations.

Wednesday were gracious hosts, conceding a 22nd-minute free-kick near halfway. Bailey Akehurst played it straight and deep, John Akinde helped it on and Oliver did what ex-players do.

Sheffield Wednesday's Theo Corbeanu (left) and Gillingham's Daniel Phillips battle for the ball at Hillsborough. Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA

That left the injury-ravaged outsiders with around 70 minutes to decide how to play it. They are managed by Steve Evans. What followed was a masterclass in time-wasting and an exhibition in weak refereeing. The only player booked for it was Akinde, when he shamelessly dribbled the ball away after Joe Wildsmith put down for a goalkick.

“It’s very difficult when you’ve got a throw-in on the left-hand side and the right-back comes over from the opposite side of the pitch to take it,” said Moore. “It’s very difficult when a player goes down injured because you have to get the physios on.

“One of the stoppages was 75 seconds, another was one minute 49 and they all kill momentum.”

Wednesday who, like Gillingham, made three separate substitutions, got two extra first-half minutes, six in the second.

Sheffield Wednesday's Florian Kamberi gets away from Gillingham's Danny Lloyd Picture: Steve Ellis

“You need patience because the fans will start to get a little bit nervous, especially when you are losing,” said Florian Kamberi, the only home player who walked off having scored. “You just need to keep calm and believe in yourself to the end. It’s easy to say but difficult to do.

”Every game you have to believe in yourself, even if you are 1-0 down with 15 minutes to go. The fans will back you up.

“I was at Rangers so I know how it is to be in a massive club with pressure and expectation. League One is not an easy league, it’s a very aggressive league, but I knew what was coming.

“When you’re at a big club it’s about just winning games.”

Kamberi’s team is just not doing that enough. It was not for a lack of effort on Saturday.

A consequence of the Owls’ injuries was only two of the 14 players used were defenders, with forwards at wing-back in a 3-5-2.

Sheffield Wednesday's Liam Palmer and Gillingham's Vadaine Oliver, now playing for Gillingham. The two played alongside one another as youngsters at Hillsborough before Vadaine was released. Picture: Steve Ellis

“At one stage we had four out-and-out nines on the pitch,” protested Moore.

Despite that, despite all the possession, despite an inspired Theo Corbeanu, despite Callum Paterson setting a positive early tone by flicking Fisayo Dele-Bashiru’s pull-back onto the base of the post, you never felt a goal was coming until Kamberi snaffled the rebound when Barry Bannan’s 76th-minute shot was saved.

Once he did, the roar of the crowd was one of anticipation. They should have known better. They looked no more likely in the subsequent 20 minutes.

All of which poses a dilemma for Moore. If self-belief can turn the nearly men into really men is it wise to plug in the hairdryer? Is the alternative accepting mediocrity?

“You can encourage or you can snarl and bite,” he said. “I’ve done both. The snarling and biting is because of the importance of it, which they understand.

“No player goes out to miss but it was all around the team we were missing chances, not getting the final contact on the ball or not being proactive in the box.

“Over the weeks Greggers (Gregory) has scored, Patto (Paterson)’s scored, Saido’s scored, Kamberi’s scored. The stats and figures suggest we should have got the three points but we haven’t.

“They have to keep going. Our forward play and getting up behind the ball was excellent, we broke a lot of lines and our attacking emphasis was really good but the amount of times I stood in the technical area just expecting the net to ripple and it didn’t happen...”

It nearly did.

Sheffield Wednesday's Callum Paterson (left) and Gillingham's Daniel Phillips battle for the ball at Hillsborough Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA