Sheffield Wednesday v Gillingham: Owls want performances to get to next level in order to lead the way

Darren Moore is not one for looking back, but others will do so longingly at home to Gillingham today.

Sheffield Wednesday’s last two matches have come in the cups, making them unreliable guides. They were half-decent without the finishing touches against Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup, then ruthlessly efficient versus Harrogate Town in the Football League Trophy.

But like many others, defender Liam Palmer, who this week signed a contract extension until the summer of 2023, calls their last League One match, against Sunderland “a precedent”.

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Moore looks at the 3-0 win not as a performance to simply be emulated, but bettered today. At the same time he has to find solutions to the injuries that keep popping up like some treatment room game of “Whac-a-Mole”.

“We want to replicate that Sunderland performance level,” says the manager. “If we can, we want to better it.

“Sunderland was a convincing performance. So was Rotherham and Wigan. There has not been one stand-out performance, there have been some wonderful performances, but we don’t look back at the results even though we are happy with them. We look to get better and stronger.

“It is now about looking ahead. We have got another difficult game.”

The trouble with being as big a League One club as Sheffield Wednesday, is no one will be satisfied until they are no longer a League One club at all.

JOB WELL DONE: Sheffield Wednesday defender Liam Palmer and manager Darren Moore congratulate each other after the 3-0 win over Sunderland Picture: Steve Ellis

They have lost just once in 13 matches in all competitions but are eighth in the table and that is not good enough because that will not bring promotion.

Having come up through the ranks, making his debut in January 2010, Palmer knows better than most what is expected at Hillsborough.

“We have had a few results where we have been really disappointed as a group,” he says. “We want to win every game.

“The bigger picture is it is one defeat in 13.

TOUGH OPPONENT: Gillingham assistant manager Paul Raynor (left) and manager Steve Evans Picture: Richard Sellers/PA

“The Sunderland result and the manner of how we played set a precedent.”

Gillingham are an example of why consistent performances are so difficult in League One.

On paper, they should be no match for the Owls, but on grass they will be as awkward as Cheltenham Town, Lincoln City, Wimbledon, Oxford United, Shrewsbury Town and Morecambe, all of whom have taken points off them this season.

And the Gills have the considerable figure of former Rotherham United and Leeds United manager Steve Evans in the dugout too.

Sheffield Wednesday celebrate scoring their second goal against Sunderland, coming from Florian Kamberi Picture: Steve Ellis

“Every team and opponent has got to be respected,” comments Palmer, saying all the right things but hopefully meaning them too.

“We have learned that we are not going to have it all our own way. Some teams will sit men behind the ball and it is up to us to break them down.

“We know everybody raises their game against us because we are a big fish in the league.

“We want to be No 1. We want to get promoted. We have to use that in a positive way to drive us forward. The expectation is good for us and it is something we need to keep motivation.”

As Moore acknowledges, Evans is “a manager who knows his way around this league”.

“They play effective football. We have got to stand up and be counted and try and implement our style on the game. We have to try and get after them.”

Moore learned this week that centre-backs Dominic Iorfa and Lewis Gibson are unlikely to play again in 2021. It could even see the latter’s loan from Everton cut short. Sam Hutchinson has had a setback as he tries to return from a muscle strain.

Days after George Byers and Massimo Luongo made comebacks and Josh Windass was back in training – having not played this term there is more work to do – it was another reminder of how difficult this season will be.

“(Iorfa) picked up a hip injury,” says Moore. “It is a bitter blow for us. He and Lewis Gibson will be out until the New Year.

“(Gibson) is back at Everton receiving treatment. He is making slow and steady progress.

“Sam won’t be risked over the coming weeks.”

Gibson’s injury could mean an extended run on the left of a back three for winger Marvin Johnson.

“He has done really well,” says Palmer. “He has adapted well. I think we (Palmer, fellow defender Chey Dunkley and Johnson) have built up quite a good understanding in the past three games.”

For all the doubts elsewhere, there is still Palmer – flitting from defensive position to position without missing a game, except in the Trophy, since April 2. His new contract was a real boost.

“He can play three or four positions,” says former centre-back Moore. “Even though he is predominantly right-footed he can play on the left. He has a wonderful calming influence. We are delighted he has extended his stay.”

To Palmer, playing different roles is no big deal but wearing the blue-and-white stripes is.

“I have had it for many a year playing in different positions, which is something I am more than happy to do,” he says. “You dig in and do what you have to do for the team.

“As a player, it is always in the back of your mind when you are in the last year of your contract. It is nice to get it boxed off.”

Like Moore, Palmer can now fully focus on the future. A flashback to that Sunderland performance would not go amiss, though.