Sheffield Wednesday v Cardiff City: Owls youngsters get chance to graduate

Joe Wildsmith: Keeping the Owls in safe hands.
Joe Wildsmith: Keeping the Owls in safe hands.
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Jos Luhukay has challenged Sheffield Wednesday’s youngsters to help revive their stuttering season.

The new Owls chief has only been in charge for 12 days but there is already a noticeable sea-change in attitudes at Hillsborough.

While previous manager Carlos Carvalhal rarely wavered from his trusted group of big-name players, Dutchman Luhukay has arrived with a clean slate.

In his first game as Owls manager, eight days ago, he included five players who had come through the club’s Academy for the Steel City derby at Bramall Lane.

Granted, he was forced into drafting in 21-year-olds Jordan Thorniley and Sean Clare into the squad due to 10 first-team regulars ruled out with long-term injuries.

But then on Tuesday night, in the FA Cup win over Carlisle 
United, Luhukay brought in another two rookies from Wednesday’s Under-23 side in centre-backs Connor O’Grady, 19, and Frederik Nielsen, 19, for their home debuts.

I don’t look to age. What is important to me is the quality.

Owls manager Jos Luhukay.

Alongside Liam Palmer, 26, and goalkeeping duo Joe Wildsmith and Cameron Dawson, that made it seven graduates from the club’s Under-23 ranks to feature in Luhukay’s first two games at the helm.

“Personally, I like it when you have young players, who have a very good identification with the club and fans,” he said.

“When young players put in good performances in training and games, I don’t look to age. What is important to me is the quality.

“Whether a player is 18, 25, or 30, for me it’s important what I see every day on if he will play Saturday. The intensity he puts in every day.

“Every player now – including the young ones – have a chance to give 100 per cent every day, and see who will play on Saturday.”

Cardiff City are the visitors to Hillsborough this tea-time for a televised match, the Owls looking to improve a poor record of just one win in 12 Championship outings.

With Republic of Ireland international Keiren Westwood ruled out until next month, the Owls appear to be in safe hands with Wildsmith and Dawson, both aged 22.

Wildsmith was excellent in keeping a clean sheet in the Steel City derby, while Dawson was accomplished in the 2-0 win over Carlisle in the FA Cup.

Both goalkeepers have impressed Luhukay.

“It has been very positive,” he said. “Last Friday, Joe, then Tuesday with Cammy.

“I think both have a lot of quality. They are young, motivated, and have a 100 per cent mentality in training every day.

“They will get better every day, and I was happy to see Joe have a very good game on Friday, and to see what Cammy can do on Tuesday. It’s a very good situation for us.”

The clean sheet against Carlisle was impressive, considering defenders O’Grady and Nielsen had never previously played a competitive game at Hillsborough.

Luhukay is refusing to rule out making more “surprise” changes in today’s line-up.

“For us, it was very enjoyable (on Tuesday),” he said. “For the young players maybe it was a little bit of a surprise, but not us as we have seen that every day for the last 12 days.

“We were working on that, and maybe on Saturday it will be a new surprise.

“It was a different team to Friday, so I saw more players not just in training, but in a game.

“We have now been working together for 12 days, two games, and I have seen all the players now.

“It has given me a good feeling, going forward, into Saturday’s game with Cardiff,” said Luhukay, who admitted he had never heard of Bluebirds manager Neil Warnock – the former Blades chief – before arriving in England.

“The players who I have now, most of them have not played a lot of games. I must try and bring a high quality from them, and put in a good performance.

“I think the chances for the young players are very high. In the last 12 days, there have always been six, seven, eight players from the Under-23s with us.

“We have a lot of injuries so they have a chance.

“On Tuesday, the two central defenders played and did a good job.

“Last Friday, we had two players in the squad – one played in the game – so maybe on Saturday we will have young players in the team – not just the bench, but out there to play.”