SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY head coach Jos Luhukay has called on his players to show some mental fortitude in a key Hillsborough double-header this week as the Owls try to avoid being dragged into a relegation dogfight.
Wednesday, who welcome Ipswich Town in the first home instalment this evening, have a seven-point buffer above third-from-bottom Birmingham City, but have won just once in their past 11 Championship matches and now sit 17th in the standings.
Only rock-bottom Sunderland have taken fewer points than Wednesday in their last 10 league games, with confidence levels suffering a pasting in Saturday’s abysmal 4-0 reverse at Bristol City, the Owls’ heaviest league defeat since suffering an identical loss at Fulham in December 2014.
A lengthy injury list has compounded matters in what is proving to be a fraught season, with the Owls currently 24 points and 11 places adrift of where they were at the corresponding stage of 2016-17.
A drama could lurch into a crisis should the Owls fail to win at least one of their next two home matches and results elsewhere go against them, with Luhukay saying that his players need to find some inner resolve to ensure that the club avoid a nervy run-in.
Luhukay, whose side welcome 19th-placed Bolton Wanderers in a potential ‘six-pointer’ on Saturday, said: “This week could be a very important one for the position in the league with these two games. We can get, not in a comfortable situation, but it is important we take points.
“We must have the mental strength to believe in ourselves. It is not so easy, but as a footballer you have the next situation (game) after a defeat in a very short time to bring yourself into a positive situation with a win from a negative situation. That is what we would like to do.”
On whether Owls chairman Dejphon Chansiri has relayed a message regarding what is expected in the weeks ahead, the Dutchman added: “That we must get winning again. It is easy to say; every game you want to win, but you also have the opponents.
“After Saturday it is very important that the team is mentally strong and believes in each other and themselves. We can only help ourselves, not the opponents. With the support in our fans we can have belief in each other and make a good game and result.
“Nobody likes the situation now with the last two months and not having all the players. But everyone knows that also.
We have been working for two months and we have made a very good progression and played very good in some games. But also some games have been not good. We must be more consistent.Sheffield Wednesday manager, Jos Luhukay
“Personally, it is not an excuse. We have been working for two months and we have made a very good progression and played very good in some games. But also some games have been not good. We must be more consistent.
“We want to play the next games to our best level to get the wins and have a very good week. We must make the first step against Ipswich.”
While a victory at home to Ipswich this evening would represent a much-needed shot in the arm after a humbling afternoon at Ashton Gate, it would also help provide an element of payback to the Owls’ travelling support, who braved the elements to make a seven-hour round trip to the south-west only to get short-changed by witnessing an atrocious performance.
Luhukay is conscious of his Owls side getting back onside with supporters, but accepts that it is a two-way street with his team having to deliver a fitting display to work towards getting back in their good books tonight.
Seeking to avoid a fifth successive defeat in all competitions – something that the Owls last recorded in late 2012 – Luhukay said: “When you lose a game, it is not a good feeling for everyone.
“Of course, the players and team include the staff and fans. In football sometimes the opponents have qualities and are strong and Bristol play for the play-off positions and have a very good team.
“Our confidence went very down and we must work on that and we know that and we will hopefully give our fans the feeling from winning the game and three points (against Ipswich).”
On the Owls’ poor recent run, which has seen them pick up seven points from the last 33, Luhukay, who has pre-match injury doubts over Daniel Pudil, Frederico Venancio and Lucas Joao, continued: “This is the situation and in a lot of games we have had good play and progression, but also games where you think why have we not made the next step? We must make a step back.
“At the moment we do not have a stable situation. We play one good game against Aston Villa and a week later, against Bristol, we see a different team.
“I hoped we would have more stability and maybe also more confidence and trust in ourselves. When things happen in a game, sometimes players have more mental problems in themselves than with the opponents.”
Last six games: Sheffield Wednesday WDLLLL Ipswich LWDDLW.
Referee: O Langford (West Midlands).
Last time: Sheffield Wednesday 1 Ipswich 2; November 6, 2016; Championship.