Sheffield Wednesday v Hull City: Returning stars lift the gloom over Hillsborough

Owls' Joey Pelupessy: Rare signing.
Owls' Joey Pelupessy: Rare signing.
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When Joey Pelupessy arrived at Hillsborough not many Sheffield Wednesday fans would have envisaged he would be the only new signing in 2018.

That was on January 18 – the Dutch midfielder is still manager Jos Luhukay’s sole signing in eight months at S6 – and two permanent transfer windows have now been completed without further arrivals.

That is mainly due to this summer’s English League transfer embargo after Wednesday encroached on Financial Fair Play regulations.

Several players have departed – like captain Glenn Loovens, midfielder Ross Wallace, right-back Jack Hunt and club record signing Jordan Rhodes – as Owls chairman Dejphon Chansiri urgently attempted to balance the books.

Set against that backdrop, you could be forgiven for thinking there is a dark cloud hanging over Hillsborough.

But – ahead of Wednesday’s first home game of the campaign against Hull City – Pelupessy believes the Owls still boast a squad brimming with talent, and it is a far cry from when he first arrived in England.

Back in January, Wednesday’s squad – missing around a dozen players with long-term injuries – was patched up with Academy youngsters.

The rookies offered energy and potential but the welcome return of star names like Tom Lees, Fernando Forestieri, Sam Hutchinson and Steven Fletcher can only benefit the Owls.

“It’s a big change from when I came here in January,” Pelupessy told The Yorkshire Post.

“You need experienced players and in the last months they came back.

“I saw in pre-season that we have a really good squad. It’s been a positive change.

“You can see the difference in training, for sure. The level is really high.

“We have very good squad. That’s what you need. It’s a long season and there are a lot of games, so you need all the players.

“If they stay fit and we keep the group together, we can make it a good season, I think.”

If Wednesday can lift the embargo, they could draft in loan signings this month, but Pelupessy is the only permanent addition in 2018.

Today, Fletcher could make his first start since December 2 last year, ironically when the Owls drew 2-2 against the same opponents.

Fellow striker Gary Hooper – out since Boxing Day – and midfielder Kieran Lee are also on the comeback trail after lengthy lay-offs.

The returning stars have helped to lessen the impact of the transfer embargo, and Pelupessy has confidence in the current squad.

“It (the embargo) has no impact on us as players,” said the 25-year-old. “To be honest, we don’t talk about transfers.

“We have a lot of quality and also the players not in the starting 11 have a lot of quality. You see that every day in training.

“In my opinion, it’s not necessary to get new players. We have a really good squad and I have a lot of trust in the players here.”

There was an early test of that trust in last weekend’s disappointing 3-2 defeat at Wigan.

Wednesday were poor, and it prompted some “stern words” from a frustrated Luhukay.

One positive from no new summer signings should have been a settled squad, who were well-drilled in defence.

But the Owls conceded three soft goals in the opening hour at the DW Stadium, and Luhukay has demanded an improvement today against the Tigers.

“We have to get back to basics,” insisted Luhukay.

“I was totally disappointed (with our defending against Wigan). We have spoken a lot with the players in the last days. It was disappointing that this team has played three years together. Only Joey in the first XI has come to us.

“We have not had to integrate new players, which is why it was also a very big disappointment that we didn’t defend well as a team.

“We have done it before very good. When you have won six of your last nine games last season, you think when you start (a new season) that you must have confidence and a good feeling.

“It was very disappointing from our side.”

The Owls will be forced into at least one change today when Atdhe Nuhiu serves a one-game ban for his red card at Wigan.

It means a first start of the season for either Lucas Joao or Fletcher – full internationals with Portugal and Scotland, respectively.

Pelupessy believes Joao, 24, can build on a promising second half of last season, eventually finishing with nine goals.

He said: “He can be a very important player for us this season. Lucas has a lot of qualities.

“He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s technical. He can score goals very easily, in my opinion, and he showed that last season.

“He is a really good player with a lot of qualities.

“You saw it in the last minutes of the game at Wigan. We have a lot of depth up front.

“You can see in the training sessions that we have a lot of quality.

“Steven Fletcher is almost ready to play. We have a lot of quality in this team. That’s why I was really disappointed about the Wigan game.

“I’m really confident there will be a reaction against Hull. We’re playing our first home game and that’s always really nice.

“I’m excited about it. We all want to show that we can change our feelings from last Saturday. We are ready for it.”

After 4,500 Owls fans made the journey to Wigan last Saturday – the weekend’s largest away following in the English Football League – Pelupessy says he and his team-mates are determined to put on a show today.

Asked if they let down the travelling supporters in Lancashire, the Dutchman replied: “Yes, of course. If you see how many fans went to Wigan, it is so positive.

“You want to give them something back. There were a lot of away fans and you want to give them a good feeling.

“You want to thank them for coming. You want to give them a good result and we didn’t do that.

“Hopefully, we can give them something back on Saturday,” he added.