Everything you need to know about Middlesbrough's upcoming opponent Sheffield Wednesday
There are few other fixtures that are as feisty for Neil Warnock than when he faces the Owls. The Middlesbrough manager was born and raised a Sheffield United fan and he went on to manage the side for 8 years solidifying his position as Sheffield Wednesday’s public enemy No. 1. Unfortunately a lot of the drama will be lost this season due to the empty stadium but Neil Warnock will still strive to get one over his rival club.
A victory over Sheffield Wednesday would be all the more satisfying for the former Cardiff City manager as it would put a massive dent in Wednesday’s hopes for Championship survival. Yet it appears unlikely that he will curb away from his late season policy of giving youth players an opportunity in the first team making this task all the more difficult.
Meanwhile, the Wednesday fans will be disappointed with how their season has panned out, sitting beneath Rotherham United in the relegation zone, it is growing more and more likely that the side that has remained a Championship constant for 8 seasons, will be relegated this season. It is far from a certainty though and Wednesday fans will have to hold onto this hope and back their side as they try to make up the four point gap in the next three games. A victory against Neil Warnock’s side would give the Owls a fighting chance.
If the Sheffield Wednesday contingent needed any more motivation to perform against Middlesbrough then Adam Reach and Jordan Rhodes, may be particularly motivated to play well as they are set to face their former side.
(I do not claim any of the images as my own: all sources are named and images are hyperlinked to the website that they were found. All research and sources used can be found at the end of the article)
Season So Far:
The season is set to come to an end soon and the vast majority of the leagues sides now sit on the same number of games played (43), with the exclusion Middlesbrough’s mid-week opposition Rotherham United (41), Luton Town (42), and 5th placed Brentford (42) providing a solid basis to compare Sheffield Wednesday’s chances of survival. Derby County appears to be the most vulnerable of the sides in a safe position but they currently sit on 43 points, some 4 points ahead of Sheffield Wednesday. The next most vulnerable, Huddersfield Town are 8 points ahead and while it is mathematically possible for Sheffield Wednesday to overtake the side, it is highly unlikely. In this instance Sheffield Wednesday’s future is highly dependant on the results of a rival, as they will have to bridge the gap between themselves and Derby if they wish to stay up. The biggest unknown is Rotherham United. The Millers have two games in hand and so it is more likely that they can catch up with Huddersfield Town but they are certainly more likely to reach, and go beyond, Derby County. In all likelihood, it will be a race between these three sides for the final space in the Championship for next season.
Interestingly, it is Derby County who are sitting on the worst goal difference (-20) with Sheffield Wednesday following closely behind on -19. Yet these are from an outlying goal differences as Birmingham City and Huddersfield Town have a goal difference of -18. It has been a strange season without fans in the stadium and that is reflected in these goal differences as there isn't a gulf between the lower sides and the lower mid-table sides that is typically visible in a championship season. This has come about, in Sheffield Wednesday's case, by a few high scoring victories, especially the 5-0 win over Mick McCarthy’s Cardiff City. Removing 4 of these 5 goals from the statistics highlights a more concerning pattern as it would put Sheffield Wednesday on a goal difference of -23, a larger gulf between themselves and the sides that have secured their championship future. Sheffield Wednesday will be hoping that they have a high scoring victory in one of their last 3 games in order to bridge the goal difference gap between themselves and Rotherham United.
Form: W L L D W
There is still a good reason to hope for Sheffield Wednesday fans as they have recently entered a good run of form. The 23rd placed side has averaged 0.9 points per game so far this season, which would typically be considered relegation form as seen in their current standing in the league, but their return in last 5 games has been better than average with a return of 1.4 points per game over this period. This recent points return, if extrapolated across a season, would have been enough for the side to finish 9th/10th (Middlesbrough 1.39 and Cardiff City 1.41) but beyond this speculation, Sheffield Wednesday will need to maintain this level of form, or even improve on it if they wish to stay in the league.
One of the victories over this period, was the 5-0 drumming against Cardiff City, which saw former Middlesbrough youth academy graduate, Adam Reach score a brace. You would be mistaken if you believed that this was the turning point for Sheffield Wednesday though as they dropped this momentum as they were drummed 4-1 by QPR and then a 2-0 loss came at the hands of Swansea. It was at this point that it would be fair to expect the Sheffield Wednesday fans to start giving up hope about their Championship future but an early goal and a red card awarded to Henri Lansbury helped the Owls to a draw against Bristol City. A point that they then improved on with a 1-0 win over Blackburn Rovers. It is this form that appears the most interesting as the side doesn’t appear to be overcompensating by scoring a hatful against an out of sorts Cardiff City; instead they are turning up and doing the job they needed to do against a two solid sides. So what can we learn from this run of form?
The first thing we can learn is how they are blatantly struggling for consistency, which is especially visible in the 5-0 win against Cardiff and the 4-1 defeat to QPR. However this volatility appears to have settled down over recent weeks as despite them scoring 8 and conceding 7 over this period, they only scored two and conceded 3 in their last 3 games indicating that they have found something of a balance in recent weeks; a balance that is increasingly impressive since two of the three goals that the side conceded came against playoff candidate Swansea City.
Meanwhile these fixtures have proven to be a microcosm of Sheffield Wednesday’s biggest issue this season: their away form. While most sides fluctuate in their standings at home and away, Sheffield Wednesday’s away form has been nothing short of catastrophic. The Owls currently prop up the away form table after retrieving just 14 points from 21 matches thanks to the sides 4 wins and 2 draws. While the considerable defeat, against QPR came in a match away from home, the rest of the games came at Hillsborough which has helped pave the way for their recent successful form, in fact, solely taking home form into consideration, Sheffield Wednesday would be in 12th position. The Owl’s have been sorely let down by their away form this season and so they will not be looking forward to going on their travels again this weekend as Middlesbrough host the side at the Riverside Stadium. Middlesbrough, on the other hand, will take this terrible away form as motivation to earn all three points against a side in the relegation zone.
Top Goalscorer: Josh Windass (8)
Most Assists: Barry Bannan, Josh Windass (5)
Most Yellow Cards: Barry Bannan (8)
Most Red Cards: Liam Shaw (2)
One To Watch: Barry Bannan
There are very few players that can do what Barry Bannan can do. The midfielder is a threat from anywhere on the pitch and he is key in getting the side to tick. Everything goes through the Scotsman and so he is naturally the player to watch out for as the one that is most likely to make something happen. He is best when he finds a pocket of space around the penalty box where he can use his wand of a foot to deliver crosses and passes that create goalscoring opportunities. Middlesbrough will hope that their man-marking system will stifle the player and the space as keeping Bannan quiet may be key to any success that the side has.
Born in Airdrie, Scotland, Bannan made his first moves into the football world with Celtic before he moved across the border to join Aston Villa at the under-17s level. He may have joined the club in 2004 but he only had his first taste of professional football in 2008 as he was promoted into the first team. Yet it wasn’t until he was loaned to sides beneath Aston Villa in the football pyramid that he started getting tangible game time.
The first of these loans came in March 2009 as Derby County brought him to Pride Park on a 3 month loan deal. He would go on to make 10 appearances during his stay with the Rams, playing 297 minutes, or an average of 30 minutes per appearance. It is his low minutes per appearances that highlights that he was used as an impact substitute for Derby County, a role that we now know is limiting to his overall abilities. All the same, he managed to contribute a goal and an assist during his time in black and white.
He was loaned out once again the following season, joining Blackpool on loan, where he remained until the end of the 2009/2010 season. He would go on to play 756 minutes for the Seasiders across 22 appearances as he failed to break into the starting XI on a permanent basis averaging just 34 minutes an appearance. It will not come as a surprise, considering his limited game time, that he struggled to make an impact at Blackpool as he contributed just 1 goal and 2 assists during his time on the coast.
He would remain put for the majority of the next season until Leeds United brought the central midfielder into the club on a month long loan. He would play 297 minutes across the month of March averaging 42 minutes per appearance as the as the lily-whites which gave Bannan more time to have an impact. He repaid this faith with 2 assists, resulting in the player averaging an assist every 148 minutes; not a bad return for a player that had to quickly adjust to a new side and show what he was all about before he returned to his parent club.
He would go on to punctuate each of these loan moves with appearances for his parent club, but it was the 2 years between his return from Leeds and the sale to Crystal Palace that really saw the player come into his own. The Scotsman would go on to play 4,819 minutes for the claret and blue side averaging 58 minutes per appearance across 82 matches. He would also contribute to the sides offensive expeditions as he added 2 goals and 7 assists to the clubs tally during his time with the side. This goal contribution return every 535 minutes didn’t do the player’s influence justice as Crystal Palace recognised the impact he could have, forking out £1.89m for the midfielder in 2013.
His time with the Eagles was not the success that both parties would have hoped as he made just 27 appearances across 2 years with the club as he fell out of favour with the backroom staff. Yet he did manage to get a considerable number of minutes on the pitch when he was available and selected for the side, averaging 60 minutes per appearance. He would also contribute to the sides attack as he supplied 1 goal and 4 assists during his time at the club.
Yet a loan move to Bolton in February 2015 seemed to mark the end of his time with Palace, as he struggled to show the form that had brought him to the club in the first place. Bannan was not short of time to prove his worth at the Wanderers either as he averaged 86 minutes per appearance across 16 matches showing that Bolton had valued the player on his arrival at the club. However his 3 assists, one every 458 minutes, was not enough to persuade Crystal Palace that it was vital that they extended his contract and so he made his move to Sheffield Wednesday.
Crystal Palace may have made a loss of £1.89m in transfer fees when Bannan’s contract expired but Sheffield Wednesday would become very pleased with a deal that saw them bring a key player to the South Yorkshire City. They would go on to surpass any of his former teams in appearances made and minutes played and it is set to continue to rise at least until the end of the season. He has played 22,053 minutes for Wednesday so far, averaging 86 minutes per appearance across 255 matches as he quickly became a vital component to the side providing 13 goals and 39 assists across this period. He has spent his prime at the Owls but he has matured like a fine wine and he continues to influence games which his average game contribution every 424 minutes simply doesn’t do justice.
Previous articles have detailed how Bannan has one of the best commands of the ball and Neil Warnock will be hoping that the sides man-marking system will prevent the player from finding the space that makes him so dangerous. However if they fail to marshal the midfielder properly then they could be in for a long afternoon.
Hot Prospect: Osaze Urhoghide
It can be difficult to find a balance between experience and youth in a squad but it appears as though this is one of the features of the side that Sheffield United has succeeded at. The squad as a whole has a number of more experienced players as Jordan Rhodes (31), Kieren Westwood (36), Barry Bannan (31) who may hang up their boots within the next few seasons but these players, with the exclusion of Barry Bannan, have spent the majority of the season as bit-part players allowing the middle-aged category of player to take a more prominent role as Adam Reach (28), Callum Patterson (26) and Josh Windass (27) are the second to fourth most used players in the side. While it will be down to the likes of Liam Shaw (20), Matt Penney (23), Alex Hunt (20), Andre Green (22) and Osaze Urhoghide (20) to lead this club into the future. The latter of which has been nominated as the clubs hot prospect.
Born in Holland, the 6ft 2 defender started his youth career at CB Hounslow, a club based in Greater London, before AFC Wimbledon poached the youngster. Yet he would never be given the opportunity to play in front of Wimbledon’s fans as the club decided against extending his contract. A trial at Sheffield Wednesday followed and the staff at the club were impressed with what the player had to offer and so they added him into the fold at Under-23 level. 6 months later, on the 1st January 2020 he would be promoted to Sheffield Wednesday’s first team where he has since gone on to make 20 appearances for the club.
In Urhoghide, Sheffield Wednesday may have found a gem that could develop into a very solid defender and he will be no pushover if he lines up against Middlesbrough today.
Manager: Darren Moore
There are some managers that seem to go under the radar, often they are managers that have recently started their career in the top job but have shown a great aptitude for the role as they indicate that they could have a long and prosperous career in the role. While Darren Moore doesn’t completely fit into this category due to his exposure as caretaker manager and manager of West Bromwich Albion, but he has been a little underrated after his sacking from West Brom coincided with a demotion to Doncaster Rovers, yet there are indications that he could become a decent manager at this level.
A former right footed centre back, Darren Moore was born in Birmingham on the 22nd April 1974 but his first steps into professional football would come during his time on the South coast as he played for Torquay United. He would then go on to have a career spanning across English football as he played for Doncaster, Bradford, Portsmouth, West Brom, Derby, Barnsley and Burton Albion before he retired. While his total transfer fees during his playing career added up to £2.15m.
It would be 6 years before Darren Moore turned his coaching and playing experience towards a managerial role as the former West Brom player took over the club as a caretaker manager and there was an improvement in the sides form as he finished the season with a 1.83 points per game average. He was then offered a permanent role at the club which lasted until March 2019, in which time Moore led the club into 42 games with a return of 1.69 points per game a respectable but not automatic promotion form. He would then join another of his former clubs, taking over Doncaster Rovers in July 2019 the manager would go on to lead the club into 78 fixtures averaging 1.56 points per game. Finally, his latest managerial role, in charge of Sheffield Wednesday, has seen a return of a point a game over 11 fixtures.
One of the bigger concerns for the current Sheffield Wednesday will be that his points per game ratio has been in steady decline since his first 6 matches as a manager that saw him average 1.83 points per game. Now the manager is averaging a point a game and, while this form can be excused because the club is struggling at the wrong end of the table, Moore will be hoping that it isn’t a pattern of his own personal form.
Darren Moore is a good manager and a solid tactician and Sheffield Wednesday will believe that they have backed the right horse to get them out of the relegation quagmire. Whether he can manage to save the club from relegation or not remains to be seen but there is no doubt that he is a manager with serious talent to succeed in the managerial role.
Sheffield Wednesday’s extremely poor away form and Neil Warnock’s motivation to ‘put one over’ the Owls may lead to a convincing scoreline for the Boro.