Sheffield Wednesday could look to shuffle their strikers in the January transfer window, but manager Garry Monk insists Steven Fletcher’s recent absence is nothing to do with protecting him ahead of a possible move.
The Owls have missed their 12-goal top-scorer in the last three matches, prompting rumours of a move, perhaps to title-chasing West Bromwich Albion.
I have a lot of pride in myself and in the boys. I want to be part of the team and this football club. Sitting up in the stands you don’t exactly feel like that.Sam Winnall
But Monk says illness was the reason and Fletcher is back in training, although whether he will be strong enough for today’s visit of Hull City remains to be seen as he has lost a lot of weight.
“That’s a conspiracy that needs to be put well away,” said Monk. “He’s genuinely been ill.
“A player in that type of form and scoring you goals, you’re going to miss that.
“But he’s been back out on the pitches and he’ll be back out in a Sheffield Wednesday shirt as soon as possible.”
Whether Fletcher plays any part today will be down to him.
“When you’ve had an illness or a virus like that, you have to go off the player and how he feels. But he’s been out training all week.
“If there’s no reaction to yesterday’s training session, he’ll be up for selection in the squad.”
Fletcher has largely had to shoulder the goal-scoring burden alone this season, scoring four times as many league goals as any of his team-mates. Monk will try to address that in January, but with financial fair play to consider, may have to move players on to do so.
Despite last month’s hat-trick at Nottingham Forest, Jordan Rhodes’s wages make him a candidate to leave if the Owls can find someone willing to take them on. Celtic are one of those talked about as potential suitors.
Sam Winnall, picked ahead of Rhodes in Sunday’s defeat to Cardiff City, has dismissed talk of going on loan for the final six months of his contract but admits watching from the sidelines for most of this season has been difficult. Sunday was just his second league start of 2019-20.
“It’s tough,” he admitted. “No footballer wants to sit in the stands or on the bench. We all have a competitive edge and a professional side that means you want to play 90 minutes every week.
“It’s not easy to watch, it’s not easy when you’re not involved. You have to stay mentally strong and keep believing in yourself and that’s something that I’ve been doing.
“I knew my chance would come eventually.
“I hate it, I hate it, I hate being a spectator.
“I have a lot of pride in myself and in the boys. I want to be part of the team and this football club. Sitting up in the stands you don’t exactly feel like that.”
With Fernando Forestieri still missing with a knee problem, Winnall hopes he did enough against Cardiff to retain his place.
“The result didn’t go our way but I was pleased with my performance,” he said.
The Owls have lost both matches since Christmas, but Winnall is keen to keep things in perspective.
“We got back in the dressing room and everyone was very upset because we knew it was the first 10 minutes that cost us the game,” he reflected.
“If someone had offered us a play-off spot, being in there consistently, we’d have snapped their hand off.
“We’re in a really good position, it’s been a difficult couple of games but this is the Championship. Middlesbrough have gone to West Brom and won.
“Games don’t always go the way you think they will and the way teams deserve.
“We’ve been beaten by a smash and grab but that happens at this level and we just have to pick ourselves up and show what we’re made of against Hull.
Monk will also monitor midfield player Massimo Luongo, who went off with a head injury in the Boxing Day defeat at Stoke City.
“It wasn’t concussion or anything like that but he felt groggy,” the manager explained.
“It’s similar to Fletch in that you go day to day and, hopefully, you don’t get a reaction.”
With goalkeeper Keiren Westwood (shoulder) and full-back Liam Palmer (ankle) injured, Monk’s squad is being sorely tested.
“Everyone is fighting hard, we’ve collected good points and then had two frustrating games,” he said. “That will happen to every side in the division but when it does you have to respond as fast as you can.
“This period is all about mentality, trying to keep as much energy and freshness as you can. Games are every few days and you get a chance to react.
“We know we have to be at our best to get results, Hull are a very good side but in this period you have to focus on yourself and be the best you can be.”
Last six matches: Sheffield Wednesday WDWWLL; Hull City WLDWLW.
Referee: J Simpson (Lancashire).
Last time: Sheffield Wednesday 1 Hull City 1, August 11, 2018, Championship.