Sheffield Wednesday have come through their sticky patch and on a five-match unbeaten run, things are starting to look a lot rosier, at least on the pitch.
For Jordan Rhodes to come out of cold storage and score a fantastic hat-trick in a 4-0 win at Nottingham Forest underlined where the Owls are at the moment.
With the exception of the injured Fernando Forestieri and the suspended Sam Hutchinson, Garry Monk has a full squad to choose from for tomorrow’s televised game at home to fellow play-off contenders Bristol City.
Last month things were more difficult, Wednesday failing to win a game. But Monk stressed then that it was just results, not performances, which were the problem. Captain Tom Lees believes it was important that the club’s knowledgeable fans saw it was not just managerial propaganda.
“When you don’t get results and you’re not playing well things don’t seem great and the fans aren’t happy, the mood at the club’s not great,” says the centre-back. “But even though we weren’t picking up results I think fans could see that we were playing well. At West Brom, we got clapped off because we dominated the game and that was just one example, really.
“When you’re playing that way, even though you’re losing, you still keep that belief in what you’re being told and what you’re trying to do on the pitch. I think we’ve stuck to that, really, and we’re coming into a bit of form. I think that’s the difference now is that we’ve got the clinical edge up front.
I just think the fans understand the game and how the team’s playing. I used West Brom as an example and that was just a little boost.Tom Lees
“I just think the fans understand the game and how the team’s playing. I used West Brom as an example and that was just a little boost.
“You want to win the game but if you’re going to lose a game you’d rather do it by having a right go.
“If we have lost a game I don’t think we’ve ever been outfought or outplayed, it’s maybe been one or two individual errors or a moment in a game and we’ve stuck to what we’ve believed in.”
Lees says he and his team-mates are being driven on by the competition for places throughout the squad.
“As a professional footballer you have that from the moment when you first play,” he argues. “When I was six years-old in the academy you had lads shipped over from all over Europe and the UK. I’ve had that all my career and you’ve got to rise to it, really.
“Players all over the place know they’ve got a good player waiting to come in.”
Earlier in the campaign, Lees’s absence through injury arguably strengthened the central defensive unit in the long term as one man’s misfortune became another’s opportunity. Dominic Iorfa was drafted in from right-back to fill a hole, and has quickly established himself as a must-pick at the heart of the back four.
“It might be that it’s taken him a couple of games to get into it but he’s done very, very well,” says Lees, admiringly.
“Dom and Julian (Borner) were probably thinking they had players behind them on the bench desperate to get a game and it’s the same for me and Dom now. We’ve got Julian and the others desperate for a go so we know we’ve got to keep playing well and I think that brings the best out of everybody.”
The severe competition for places has not brought with it any selfishness, according to Lees.
“It’s difficult for any player when they’re injured and it’s hard to watch the game,” he admits. “It’s a little bit of torture but you want the team to do well.
“We all want to succeed and we’ve all got the same beliefs so no matter who’s doing it, you want the team to go out there and win.
“All you can concentrate on is getting fit as soon as you can.
“Every player in the team might have a time where they’re waiting to get in the side and when it comes, you’ve got to take your chance.
“Being captain you’ve got to try and look after the group anyway and I’ll always do that regardless but everybody’s got that drive to get out there on the Saturday, have the shirt and get the three points but we’ve all got the same goal, and that’s to win games and get promoted so on a weekend everyone’s pulling in the same direction.”
Centre-forward Rhodes has spectacularly risen to the challenge too. He could easily have sulked at not having started a Championship game this season until last week, but instead showed the form which earned him his reputation in the first place.
“A couple of years ago every team in the Championship would have wanted him but he’s not been in the squad for a lot of the time he’s been here,” points out Lees.
“He knows there’s two or three people vying for every position, like everyone does.”
Monk argues: “If you are conditioned and you train hard, if you follow the training and you do it to your best, you always put yourself in a position where you can do yourself justice. In terms of what he did last week it didn’t surprise me, I’ve seen him working every day.
“It’s on the player to perform and when he gets his opportunity, to take it. He’s done that last week, so all credit to him, I’m delighted for him.
“He knows as well as anyone else the competitive nature of this league and this squad means he has to continue to perform and contribute like he did last week so we’re delighted for him, but they’re all motivated to keep pushing on because they know there’s threats from within the squad, especially in this period with so many games.
“All credit to him for doing the work needed behind the scenes and when the opportunity was presented he grabbed it with both hands.”