SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY manager Jos Luhukay believes West Bromwich Albion, tonight’s visitors to Hillsborough, lead a quartet of clubs who must be regarded as favourites to win automatic promotion from the Championship.
The Baggies went top of the Championship on Saturday after capitalising on the Owls holding previous leaders Leeds United to a 1-1 draw the previous evening.
Albion’s 20 points from the opening 10 games represents an impressive start to former Bradford City and Doncaster Rovers defender Darren Moore’s first coaching role.
“For me, West Brom, Leeds, Middlesbrough and Swansea are the favourites to finish in the top four positions,” said Luhukay, whose side have taken 14 points from their last seven outings.
“Then I think four to five clubs will be fighting to the end for positions five and six. I think the first three positions will be very tough (to reach).
“We must not forget that you have also got Stoke City. They are now a little far away, but they have high quality. Swansea are also coming up and then there is Aston Villa.
“At the end, three teams will be there fighting for who directly goes up to the Premier League.
“Of the rest, I think you have five – maybe six, seven, eight –clubs who will be fighting to come into the play-offs.”
The Owls will be without Barry Bannan tonight after the midfielder picked up a fifth booking of the season in the draw with Leeds.
He will be missed, but Wednesday can take heart from not only a battling display to earn a point when second best last Friday at Hillsborough, but also an impressive win at Aston Villa in their outing prior to that.
“It is difficult in this league as you have so many good teams,” added Luhukay, whose side head to Bristol City on Sunday ahead of the international break.
“You have teams who have 20-25 players and they don’t lose quality when they have injuries or when players are not in the best form.
“We know Barry is so important for us, but it is also a challenge for the team to show we can play without Barry.
“We could speak for one or two hours about how good Barry is and how important he is to the team. But he will not be there for WBA so we must focus on our team and replacing him.
“I have the trust in my players to produce a good game.”
West Brom, relegated in May, are the top scorers in the division with 25 goals. That, though, has not stopped Moore from further strengthening arguably the best attack in the Championship by bringing in free agent Bakary Sako, who left Crystal Palace during the summer.
Looking at a table that before last night’s fixtures saw just five points separate Albion in pole position from Bolton Wanderers in 14th, Luhukay added: “I think Fulham last winter were 11th, but by the end had qualified for the play-offs. They got to the final and were promoted to the Premier League.
“You have a lot of strong clubs in the Championship. The clubs who are maybe now not so stable can come back in this league.
“We must see how it is going. We have to focus on ourselves and find our own way and we have a good position in the league and we look hopefully always to the play-off positions.
“We don’t want to be looking at the bottom.
“We want to be looking a little bit higher.”
Tonight’s contest will pit a relative rookie in Moore against Luhukay, who is in his 20th year as a manager.
The Owls chief, however, is expecting a tough challenge from West Brom.
“It is hard, tough game for us, but anything is possible in the Championship,” he said. “They have scored the most goals in the league.
“All their strikers are making assists and scoring goals. They play in a very positive way offensively. It is not easy to handle that, but everything is possible.
“We play 11 against 11. It is a new game. We must believe in each other and when we do that we can come to a good game.
“We have the respect and we know their qualities. But we must focus on ourselves and fight for 90 minutes. Hopefully at the end we will have three points.”
Last six games: Sheffield Wednesday LWDLWD West Bromwich Albion WDWWLW.
Referee: O Langford (West Midlands).
Last time: Sheffield Wednesday 0 West Bromwich Albion 4; November 28, 2009; Championship.