NICKNAMED ‘The Little General’ at his previous club, Jos Luhukay witnessed a battlefield largely devoid of leadership, spirit and direction among his confidence-sapped Sheffield Wednesday players against Ipswich Town.
The kingdom that the Dutchman surveyed was a bleak one and all the more worrying given that a bloody Roses joust with fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers – a team with fight and heart if limited weapons – is lurking around the corner at Hillsborough on Saturday afternoon.
It is a match which is likely to carry a certain amount of importance for his own future, too, with the reservoir of goodwill and patience from Wednesdayites diminishing following a grim return of just one league win in his 10 Championship matches in charge.
Granted, there are extenuating circumstances, namely an horrific injury count.
But it is a time of year when excuses do not wash, either. A time when resolve and togetherness largely gets you through the tense business end of the season as opposed to ability alone with the successful sides ‘manning’ up.
The damage of a fifth successive Owls defeat in all competitions – with a 2-1 home reverse to Ipswich following a 4-0 thrashing at Bristol City – was at least assuaged by the fact that none of the sides below 17th-placed Wednesday, still seven points above the drop zone, managed to win.
Yet of overriding importance for Luhukay is to try and restore some unity and belief for the challenges ahead. He needs a fair bit of help from his senior players in the process.
Luhukay, who commendably did not try and gloss over his side’s failings after Tuesday’s game, said: “The other results were positive and the distance is the same. But we must look to us and not to the other teams. We have enough to do. We could have made a good step forward.
“We are disappointed, but the situation is how it is. We win together and lose together.
“The players must stay together and come through this situation. We have three days to speak to each other and Saturday is a new challenge.”
On another insipid display, he added: “Over the 90 minutes, we saw a team without belief in themselves. They don’t have the confidence to play offensively and create chances. Over 90 minutes, we only had two or three chances
“The confidence and trust was not available. If we had won, it would have changed the situation. When you are in this period now, you must win games to get the belief back. This team can play better.”
Luhukay turned to experience ahead of Tuesday night and despite an unsatisfactory result, the odds are firmly on the Owls head coach now being sparing in his usage of young players, certainly until the club’s Championship status is achieved.
It is perhaps a wise policy in the circumstances, although it is also crystal clear that he possesses a line-up which is not exactly cohesive or settled.
Two more options in the shape of Sam Hutchinson and Joost van Aken, who step up their comebacks from injuries with appearances for the development squad today, could at least boost Luhukay’s hand shortly.
The 54-year-old is likely to grasp onto any positives he can following another tough night in what is fast becoming the most demanding challenge of his coaching career.
Luhukay, who will also have Sean Clare in the mix at the weekend following a slight foot problem, said: “When you take everything in the last two months, of course it is tough. But we don’t give up in this situation.
“In the first weeks, we made a very good progression. Some of the recent performances have been good, like against Aston Villa, but the results give you the extra trust you must have to make a very good game and score chances and create goals.
“We don’t have a lot of games to play and, hopefully, in the next weeks, we will get some more players back.
“We have got Tom Lees back and he is also a player who can give the team his quality.
“Hopefully, in the next few weeks, more players will be back to get the quality in the team a bit higher.
“We hope and are happy that they (Hutchinson and Van Aken) maybe come closer to the team and then they can be an option for us in the next games.
“We have a lot of players with older experience and hope that they can help the team in the games we have.
“For a young player in a team with not a lot of confidence, it is very difficult to be in a team where you must come to your best performance.”
Ipswich Town’s Barnsley-born manager Mick McCarthy said: “I think overall we deserved to win. It was a right royal scrap in the first half and we matched them in every department.
“We didn’t allow them to play and I thought we just shaded it. In the second, we were the better team. I still think it’s too much for us to make the play-offs, but I didn’t say we’d stop trying.”