Sheffield Wednesday’s season has been very turbulent, to say the least, as they currently find themselves firmly in mid-table after a great start to the season under Lee Bullen and then Garry Monk.
Following the shock departure of Steve Bruce just before the start of the Championship season, the Owls were left in a very sticky situation as they made the trip to Reading on the opening day without a permanent manager in the dugout.
Former defender Lee Bullen took the job on an interim basis and started fairly well in August before Wednesday turned their attention former Leeds United, Middlesbrough and Birmingham City manager Garry Monk.
From one former Wednesday defender to another, Wednesday finally had their permanent manager and it only strengthened their early push towards the play-offs as Monk’s organised system began to pay immediate dividends, seeing them rise into the play-offs and flirt briefly with the automatic promotion places as they met Leeds at Hillsborough in late October.
However, the period around the turn of the New Year saw a tremendous dip in form for Wednesday that has completely ripped their play-off hopes to pieces as they now sit in mid-table, just one point closer to the top six than the relegation zone, all while a potential points deduction from the EFL hangs over their heads.
Following an embarrassment at the hands of Brentford last time out, it further adds to the poor form that we have seen from Garry Monk’s side and begs the question of what happened since 2020 rolled around?
This graphic outlines the stark contrast in performance in these two periods:
The periods that we have decided to take a look at are the first 23 games of the season in the first half, and then the rest of the games since then in the second half (last 14). It’s clear to see the massive contrast between the two runs of form in the league, with Wednesday doing very well in the early stages of the season to manage 11 wins from 23 games with six draws to their tally too, and losing six too. They started the season in perfect fashion as they overcame Reading at the Madejski Stadium 3-1 to get Bullen off to a flyer. In fact, Bullen’s managerial stint was largely successful as the Owls managed three wins in his first four league games, to then lose two in a row before Monk was brought in.
Monk’s tenure got off to a brilliant start as he won four and drew two of his first seven, including an emphatic 4-1 win away to Middlesbrough.
Monk’s first loss in charge foreshadowed a sign of things to come for Wednesday as they fell to a 1-0 defeat away to Hull City, in Steven Fletcher’s first absence of the season, where they lacked any sort of bite in the final third.
Overall, Wednesday managed a steady play-off worthy return in 2019 as they averaged a points per game tally of 1.7, scoring an impressive 34 goals whilst only conceding 20. A goal difference of +14 was greatly helped by the contribution of Steven Fletcher who netted 12 goals up until Christmas, with a large chunk of them coming later in that period.
Can you name these former Wednesday defenders?
The Owls then took a massive turn in 2020 as they struggled to muster any results apart from a shock win against Leeds at Elland Road against the run of play, scoring twice and keeping a rare clean sheet.
As aforementioned, Fletcher’s absence has often stunted Wednesday’s performances and he suffered a major setback early into the New Year when he sustained a knee injury in the FA Cup win over Brighton, to see him ruled out until late February.
In that time, the Owls faltered immensely and their only win while he was sidelined was that 2-0 triumph over Leeds, with their only win since then coming just after his return at home to Charlton Athletic where he scored a last-minute winner. Following on from the Leeds win was a home clash with Blackburn Rovers and they were sent crashing down to Earth as the visitors put five past Cameron Dawson, with Massimo Luongo controversially sent off in the first half. While the red card was rescinded, there was no excusing the defending at show that day or in fact, throughout 2020.
That Blackburn trouncing was the first of two times that Monk’s side have shipped five as they were last beat by Brentford at Griffin Park 5-0. The defensive structure of the team has gone very pear-shaped in this run and has seen them concede 29 in the last 14, as opposed to the 20 in the first 23, showing the dramatic decline in that regard.
It’s no surprise that with Fletcher out of the team for a long time, they have struggled in front of goal, even with the arrivals of Connor Wickham and Josh Windass. 14 goals in as many games would be a more acceptable return if they weren’t shipping goals regularly.
One of the only players who has come through this recent run with any sort of credit is Jacob Murphy, who has netted three goals and managed to scoop up the club’s Player of the Month award for February.
With only two wins, Wednesday have drawn three and lost nine in the last 14 games, averaging a points per game total of 0.65, which has seen them slump to 13th in the table and playing much more like a relegation-bound side than one that looked like pushing for the play-offs.
There is a lot to sort out at Hillsborough for Monk as these contrasting runs highlight clear issues at both ends of the pitch that need resolving before things worsen.