Forestieri quick to remind Sheffield Wednesday of striking qualities

PRE-SEASON is not about results, we are told. It is not even about performances. Instead '˜fitness, fitness and then more fitness' is the mantra espoused by most managers at this time of year.

IN THE FRAME: Fernando Forestieri, right, showed an early sign of his intent for the 2018-19 season in Friday's pre-season friendly at Lincoln City. Picture: Steve Ellis.

Such rationale is understandable as miles put in the legs during the close season can, once the real action gets under way, be the difference between pulling off a last-ditch tackle or being able to dig deep enough to make a lung-busting run that brings a last-gasp winner when the opposition are dead on their feet.

Amid this need to prioritise pushing players to their limits above winning a friendly or two, however, can be found moments to fuel the dreams of supporters. One of those came for Sheffield Wednesday devotees on Friday night courtesy of Fernando Forestieri.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Collecting a Liam Palmer cross that had flown over a scrum of players in the Lincoln City penalty area, the Argentinian took one touch before assessing his options. Then, before the home defence had time to react, he unleashed a shot that was arrowing towards the bottom corner of the net from the moment it left his right boot.

Sheffield Wednesday head coach, Jos Luhukay. Picture: Steve Ellis.

It was a strike that deserved a better stage than a low-key pre-season friendly at Sincil Bank. But, by lighting up a night that was otherwise long on endeavour for Wednesday but short on genuine quality, Forestieri underlined why he is so integral to how the club are likely to fare once the Championship gets under way next month.

Put simply, a fit, focused and firing Forestieri means the Owls have a chance in this most competitive of divisions.

“It was a fantastic goal and we know the quality of Fernando,” said head coach Jos Luhukay. “The fans like him and so do we. We hope he can score more goals like that in the new season.”

Forestieri is about to embark on his fourth campaign at Hillsborough. His previous three have been something of a mixed bag, ranging from the stellar contribution Forestieri made in 2015-16 as Wednesday went so close to clinching promotion under Carlos Carvalhal through to his refusal to travel to Norwich City early the following season amid transfer interest from elsewhere.

Even last term was one of huge contrasts for the forward, his seven-month absence through a knee injury being followed by a return to action in March that underlined just what Wednesday had been missing as Forestieri netted five times in the final eight games.

Such an impact is why Luhukay plans to give his forward licence to roam this term.

“He plays in a free role and I think he likes that,” said the Dutch head coach. “We must also give him the freedom to go to the outside and also come inside so he can be dangerous with his finishing in the last 30 metres or in making the final ball. He likes to be fully involved in that.

“Fernando is a good professional. What he has invested in the last months is unbelievable. Fernando also does hard work in the transition from the offensive back to the defensive. He is a player who can give good pressure to the opponent and win the ball back.

“We also saw a couple of moments like that against Lincoln, so I was very happy with him.”

Forestieri was far from the only high-profile absentee at Hillsborough last season with Luhukay’s early weeks at the helm coming amid an injury crisis so acute that a decent XI could have been made up from those missing.

Three of those are still out, Luhukay admitting that Kieran Lee, Steven Fletcher and Gary Hooper will all find it “difficult” to be back in time to face Wigan Athletic on the opening day.

Fletcher, the most likely of the three to be fit, emerged over the weekend as a surprise target for Greek side Panathinaikos.

Such a move would surely suit Wednesday, who still have a surplus of strikers following Jordan Rhodes’s loan switch to Norwich City and need to trim further their squad to comply with Financial Fair Play. The Scot’s reputed wages of around £30,000 per week, however, could yet prove a major stumbling block and leave the Owls looking to make cuts elsewhere.

For now Luhukay remains focused on getting his players in shape for the new season.

“The team have made a fantastic impression in the last three weeks,” said the Owls’ chief, whose side play a behind-closed -doors friendly against NAC Breda on Saturday.

“We have a good mix and a team that has experience and quality.

“We have done some very intensive work. Maybe some players had physical problems (against Lincoln) from the previous few days.

“It is important in pre-season that we not only keep an eye on games, but also the work that we need for when the season starts.

“Results are not important. The development and progression and how we play is important. It is complex [at this time of the year], but we like that.”