Jack Hunt believes that if Carlos Carvalhal was still in charge of Sheffield Wednesday, they would be at the top end of the Championship challenging Fulham for promotion.
The Portuguese lost his job on Christmas Eve after a difficult first half of the campaign following two seasons in which the Owls had reached the play-offs. Within a week he was the surprise appointment at seemingly-doomed Swansea City, whom he has now lifted to the cusp of Premier League survival.
Wednesday, by contrast, have been unable to rescue a lost season and only allayed the fear of slipping towards a relegation dogfight with 10 points gained in their four fixtures prior to this.
Just how far off the promotion pace they have fallen, though, was illustrated on Saturday by a Fulham side who controlled the contest and should have had the three points wrapped up long before Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 78th-minute winner.
That made it 19 games unbeaten for the Cottagers, who, like Wednesday, endured an indifferent first half of the campaign following their own play-off disappointment before going on a run that has put them within striking distance of the automatic promotion places.
Right wing-back Hunt – a mainstay of Carvalhal’s Wednesday teams – could only look on with envy at what might have been.
I enjoyed playing for Carlos, I had a great two years with him and didn’t want to see him go but it’s not my decision to make. It’s the board’s decision to make.Jack Hunt
“I genuinely believe that before Carlos went we could have had a play-off push,” said Hunt, who acknowledged that a lengthy injury list has also contributed to the sense of under-achievement this season.
“It wasn’t going the way we wanted but, in December, Fulham weren’t where they wanted to be – but they are now.
“We could have done that with the players we’ve had missing – and there are a lot of people that we have missed this season.
“But the team hasn’t changed much over the past two years.
“I enjoyed playing for Carlos, I had a great two years with him and didn’t want to see him go but it’s not my decision to make. It’s the board’s decision to make.”
Such an endorsement of Carvalhal may not reflect well on his successor, Jos Luhukay, who in fairness to the Dutchman, inherited a squad devoid of a number of injured players who had formed the cornerstone of those successive play-off runs.
Hunt was speaking after a frustrating afternoon on the pitch, when, as part of Luhukay’s 3-5-2 formation, he was frequently left isolated against two Fulham players, one of those being lightning-quick winger Ryan Sessegnon, who is bound for the Premier League with or without Fulham.
Luhukay’s formation meant Wednesday were too narrow, Fulham stretching them with their pace on the flanks; Sessegnon on the left and Sheyi Ojo on the right, both of whom were ably supported by their respective full-backs.
That the goal came from out wide surprised no-one, just the length of time it took the West Londoners to beat goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith, who had resolutely stood up to clear-cut chances for Ojo, Mitrovic and Stefan Johansen.
When finally they did break clear, Sessegnon was released down the left and he fizzed the ball across the face of goal for Mitrovic to guide into the roof of the net.
“They had a lot of possession and we limited them to just a couple of chances but we were nothing special,” added Hunt.
“I think it was difficult because I had two versus one all the time down that side. I’m not going to be happy with how we played because he (Sessegnon) set up the winning goal.”
Sessegnon and Mitrovic provided the Premier League class to a confident performance from Fulham.
Wednesday’s own difference-maker of the last two seasons, Fernando Forestieri, came off the bench for a 15-minute cameo as he continued his rehabilitation from a long injury but when Adam Reach laid the ball off to him deep into stoppage time he could only blaze over.
Barry Bannan’s own reintegration into the team after a long absence was cut short after 30 minutes as he pulled up clutching his groin; he, Hunt and many more in blue and white left to look at Fulham and wonder what might have been.
Sheffield Wednesday: Wildsmith, Venancio, Lees, Pudil; Hunt, Pelupessy, Reach, Bannan (Butterfield 30), Boyd (Matias 86); Joao (Forestieri 76), Nuhiu. Unused substitutes: Dawson, Jones, Rhodes, Forestieri, Thorniley.
Fulham: Bettinelli, Fredericks, Odoi, Ream, Targett; McDonald, Johansen, Cairney; Ojo (Ayite 62 (Kebano 72)), Sessegnon, Mitrovic. Unused substitutes: Button, Kebano, Norwood, Christie, Kalas, Kamara.
Referee: S Martin (Staffordshire).