Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday: Why the Owls should be fresh to face match-sharp Black Cats

SO long as illness steers clear of it, freshness meets sharpness at the Stadium of Light this evening.

Footballers are never happy - too short a turnaround between matches and they have not had time to recover, too long and they are rusty. That is the problem when athletes are so finely tuned.

Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

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Covid-19 has left the Owls without a match since December 11, stalling the momentum built in 12 League One matches unbeaten (though there were a couple of bad cup defeats in there). In that time, the Black Cats have played three times, all away - a draw at Ipswich Town, a League Cup defeat at Arsenal, and Monday’s win at Doncaster Rovers.

Darren Moore, manager of League One Sheffield Wednesday. Picture: Nigel French/PA Wire.

The good news for Lee Johnson’s side is that whilst the timing of their first happy trip to South Yorkshire this season was not great, the circumstances were pretty good.

There were only 51 minutes gone when Alex Pritchard’s backheel onto Ben Blythe made it 3-0. Soon the former Huddersfield Town playmaker had his feet up on the bench alongside captain Corry Evans. Top-scorer Ross Stewart followed. Those who stayed out were able to play the game at a gentle pace, confident a relegation-threatened, injury-hit, inexperienced Doncaster side would be no more able to lay a glove on them in the final 40 minutes than the previous 50.

Sunderland’s options have been narrowed by injuries to Nathan Broadhead, Niall Huggins, Luke O’Nien, Jordan Willis and former Owl Aiden McGeady, and positive Covid tests for Aiden O’Brien, Jordan Willis and Ellis Taylor but they have the adrenaline shot from the sort of form Wednesday were in not so long ago.

With Rotherham United and Wigan Athletic out of action yesterday, victory will take them top of the table, albeit having played a game more. Knowing what shape the Owls are in is much more difficult. Manager Darren Moore last spoke to the media at Gresty Road 18 days ago and information since has been scarce.

Sunderland manager Lee Johnson. Picture: Isaac Parkin/PA Wire.

Hopefully the Covid outbreak that went through the camp before Christmas has run its course but it is always hard to know who might be suffering lingering after-effects. An injury list which was reaching epic proportions may have relented and Sam Hutchinson and Chey Dunkley could be some of those glad of a bit more time.

Josh Windass was just getting back into his stride after injury, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing having joined last month as a free agent. They will not have been.

Massimo Luongo’s suspension will now stretch into 2022.

There are excuses for both sides if they want hem but Sunderland should be anxious to put on a show for supporters who have not watched a home game for what feels like an eternity, Wednesday just to get a game.

But league tables do not make allowances.

This season perhaps more than any other is just about making the most of the hand you are dealt. If either side decides to have a moan tonight, the other will probably think they would love to swap.

Last six games: Sunderland WLDWWD; Sheffield Wednesday WDLDWW

Referee: B Toner (Lancashire)

Last time: Sunderland 0 Sheffield Wednesday 2, August 16, 2018, League Cup