Daniel Pudil is hoping his return to full fitness can help him end a “rollercoaster” season at Sheffield Wednesday on a high.
In a season that has seen many key Wednesday players injured for large chunks, the Czech Republic defender’s comeback after injury has largely gone unheralded.
Striker Gary Hooper and midfielder Kieran Lee have hogged the headlines in recent weeks – and been credited for helping Wednesday put together a six-match winning streak – following their returns after lengthy lay-offs.
But Pudil has proven to be just as influential heading into tomorrow’s final regular season game at home to Fulham.
The 31-year-old has played 27 games this season, but struggled earlier in the campaign due to injuries and a dip in form.
That was partly due to a hectic summer – he was involved in Euro 2016, straight after a Wembley play-off final appearance – and having little time to recover before pre-season started.
Everyone knows it is the richest game in the world. Everyone had it in their mind and maybe we thought too much about it.Sheffield Wednesday’s Daniel Pudil
Injury finally forced him out for seven weeks in February, allowing January arrival Morgan Fox to stake his claim for the left-back shirt, but Pudil made a successful comeback for the 2-1 home win over Newcastle United on April 8.
The defender, who netted in the 2-1 Easter Monday victory at QPR, has looked refreshed, and has impressed with not only his defending, but also his attacking intent.
This was highlighted in last week’s 1-0 win at Ipswich Town. With the sides locked at 0-0 deep into the second half, the left-back galloped away – after a clever one-two with Barry Bannan – before crossing for Lee to net the winning goal.
“I’m really happy. It has been a difficult season for me,” Pudil told The Yorkshire Post. “Last year, I played all of the games.
“I went to the European Championships as well. I didn’t really have a holiday. I didn’t have a pre-season with a team.
“It didn’t help me so much, but I don’t want to make any excuses. I should have played much better over the season. It has been like a rollercoaster. I would play well in one game and then not great in another.
“I came back from international duty and I was injured for a month so that hurt me as well.
“I took a rest for six to seven weeks and this helped me a lot. I worked hard and did everything to get back in the team.
“I was just waiting for the opportunity to get back on the pitch. After that, I was trying to do my best and improve.”
Twelve months ago, Pudil and the Owls were 90 minutes away from winning promotion to the Premier League, only to be pipped 1-0 by Hull City at Wembley in the Championship play-off final.
Pudil has history when it comes to getting out of the Championship, having been part of the Watford squad that gained promotion to the Premier League two years ago.
Of the four Championship teams involved in this year’s play-offs, the Owls are the only ones to have recent experience.
Pudil believes going through the end-of-season process last year could prove to be an advantage for Wednesday this month. Having beat Brighton in the semi-finals, over two legs, the Owls froze at Wembley and never looked likely winners.
“Maybe everyone was a little nervous in the final,” admitted Pudil. “Everyone knows it is the richest game in the world. Everyone had it in their mind and maybe we thought too much about it. We didn’t play our football and how we played in the semi-final.
“We have to go for the semi-finals with clear minds, play our football and enjoy every single second on the pitch. We know we are good players and I think we can do it this year.
“It’s great work from everyone at the club to achieve back-to-back play-offs. Everyone from the chairman, the players and the management staff have done their job over the last two years.
“We didn’t take that last step last year, but everyone is focused on going to the final this year and going to the Premier League.”
Depending on results tomorrow, the Owls could finish either third, fourth or fifth as they vie for places with Huddersfield Town and Reading. If positions remain the same, it will be an all-Yorkshire semi-final against the Terriers.
Finishing fourth would mean the second leg would be at Hillsborough, not that Pudil sees much advantage in that.
“It doesn’t matter if we play first home or away,” he said. “It is a normal game. You have to go for the result.
“Maybe if you play at home second, and you know you have to win the game, that the crowd can help you a little more. They can push you and be a little bit of an advantage, but it always depends on the result of the first game.”
Owls head coach Carlos Carvalhal received the Championship’s manager of the month award yesterday, but stressed it should be seen as a collective prize.
“I don’t agree with individual prizes in football, because the individual in football depends on the collective work,” he said. “This prize is not for me, but the people I work with, my staff, players, the chairman and the fans.
“The people who support Sheffield Wednesday in this month make us a very strong team.
“I am the face of the prize, but it’s for everybody. I mean nothing, we win together,” added Carvalhal, who said the Owls will do a “lap of appreciation” at the end of tomorrow’s game.
“We will not do a lap of honour, but a lap of appreciation to the fans,” he said.