SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY goalkeeper Cameron Dawson believes the Owls are flying under the radar in their latest Championship play-off quest – akin to their Wembley class of 2015-16.
That renaissance season saw Wednesday, free from high expectation levels, piece together a memorable campaign that went agonisingly close to securing promotion back to the Premier League with the Owls losing in the play-off final to Hull City.
The present-day Owls – who can draw level with fourth-placed opponents Middlesbrough with victory in tonight’s televised Hillsborough fixture – are showing the potential to be surprise packages once more, according to Dawson.
Sixth-placed Wednesday head into tonight’s game on the back of an encouraging sequence of one defeat in their last nine matches and taking the scalp of a much-fancied Boro side would add to a growing feelgood factor at S6.
Dawson said: “You look at that first year where we really had a go. We went under the radar then and people did not really expect a lot from us. For us it will be trying to follow a similar path to that.
“It is different now with a new regime, but a lot of the same group in there who know how to do it and how to get there and we have to keep plugging away.
“In the last block of games we picked up some good points against good teams and the fans have bought into that and the way we want to play. Hopefully they can stay onside with us.”
After seeing his side move impressively into the play-off positions for the first time since the Spring of 2017, head coach Jos Luhukay insists that the challenge of staying there ahead of the break for the next international hiatus in mid-November will be even more exacting.
Luhukay, who is without Fernando Forestieri for a week with a hamstring issue – but has Barry Bannan and Steven Fletcher available – said: “We are in the play-off positions and we can be happy with that. But you must work even harder to stay there and to stay there is a little bit heavier than to come there.
“It will be a hard fight to defend our position. In the next five games we have the chance to hold our position and that is the passion we must have.”
In the last block of games, we picked up some good points against good teams and the fans have bought into that and the way we want to play. Hopefully, they can stay onside with us.Cameron Dawson
While the Owls have been afforded a smooth build-up to tonight’s game, with only a handful of players called up for internationals, Boro have endured rather more disruption.
A number of players including Mo Besic, Darren Randolph, George Saville and Dael Fry only returned to training on Wednesday following international duty, while key forward Martin Braithwaite linked up with his club-mates yesterday after commitments with Denmark.
Angry Boro manager Pulis has written to the English Football League (EFL) to express his disappointment that the game was brought forward for TV coverage – while challenging his players to overcome some perceived adversity this evening.
Pulis, whose side produced a lethargic performance in a 1-0 defeat to Norwich on their first game back after the previous international break, said: “It is no good crying and moping about it now.
“(But) the facts are the facts and we have put that forward to the bodies concerned in respect of us having a lot of players away and Sheffield Wednesday almost having no players away.
“We do not feel that is a fair outcome. In these situations people can look at it a little bit closer and make it a more even match if they want to play it on a Friday. When the lads are away for nearly two weeks it can be difficult and I do hope they (EFL) look into it.”
Despite the annoyance there is considerable incentive for fourth-placed Boro, who will move above leaders Sheffield United with victory.
It is a season in which the Teesside club have shown their character especially when they came from 2-0 down to take a point dramatically with two late goals in an opening-day draw at Millwall.
Wednesday have also drawn strength from early-season adversity too and goalkeeper Dawson feels that the wake-up call of a 2-0 defeat at Brentford on August 19, when the usually undemonstrative Luhukay openly castigated his players, proved a catalyst for their recent upturn.
Dawson said: “I think that was the first time that we have really seen the manager dig into us and get his point across and that (performance) was not acceptable.
“After that game the manager made a few changes, which turned a few heads, and that was his way of getting his point across that it will not be tolerated.
“It made the point that no one was going to do what they want at this football club. It gave some a wake-up call that they were not going to be picked on reputation.”
Last six games: Sheffield Weds DLWDDW Middlesbrough WDDDWL.
Referee: P Bankes (Merseyside).
Last time: Sheffield Weds 1 Middlesbrough 2; December 23, 2017; Championship.