Car­val­hal’s boys in Pre­mier hunt

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Chris Dunlavy

TEN un­beaten, a mega-rich backer, a pul­veris­ing vic­tory over Arse­nal – is it time for Sh­effield Wed­nes­day to start dream­ing of a re­turn to the Pre­mier League?

It is 15 years since the Owls sank out of the top flight and the bar­ren spell since has brought lit­tle but mis­ery and pain.

With cash and qual­ity in short sup­ply, the days of Chris Wad­dle, Paolo Di Canio and cup fi­nals seemed con­signed to a glo­ri­ous past.

But as Fer­nando Forestieri’s fourth goal in nine games lifted Wed­nes­day to within two points of the play-offs and owner De­jphon Chan­siri cheered from the stands, it was hard to re­mem­ber Hills­bor­ough so ram­pamtly op­ti­mistic. Not that gaffer Car­los Car­val­hal was get­ting car­ried away.

“Do we change our ob­jec­tives? Ab­so­lutely not,” said the Por­tuguese.

“Even if we had one game to go, I would still say the same – we are not in the same group as the favourites.

“The favourites are the teams who have been rel­e­gated from the Pre­mier League, who have had the same coaches for two or three years, who have the big bud­gets and can buy the best play­ers. Th­ese are the best teams. We are com­pletely out­side that.”

Car­val­hal is be­ing a touch disin­gen­u­ous. The Owls spent an es­ti­mated £9mil­lion in the sum­mer

and it showed in the touch and tech­nique of Barry Bannan, the mo­men­tary in­spi­ra­tion of Forestieri and the qual­ity of Daniel Pudil.

In truth, this was a laboured per­for­mance against a For­est side de­ter­mined to sti­fle and, had the points been shared, no­body could have com­plained.

But where last year’s Wed­nes­day would have ground to a halt, this one forged a path. Forestieri had been anony­mous be­fore be­ing teed up on the edge of the box but he made his one chance count, skim­ming in a low drive that, while ac­cu­rate, should have been stopped by keeper Dim­i­tar Ev­ti­mov.

Only play­ing be­cause Dorus De Vries woke up with a back strain on Satur­day morn­ing, the young­ster may wish he, too, had stayed in bed.

The Reds – strug­gling with a crip­pling in­jury cri­sis and op­er­at­ing un­der a trans­fer em­bargo – have now won just three games all sea­son and none of the last seven.

On this ev­i­dence, there isn’t that much wrong. De­fen­sively solid, well or­gan­ised, dis­ci­plined off the ball and tidy on it. Had Jamie Ward made a bet­ter con­nec­tion with Daniel Pinil­los’ first-half cross, they’d prob­a­bly have been strong enough to shut up shop.

But like a Fer­rari with­out an en­gine, the lack of a de­cent striker – £5.5m hit­man Britt As­som­ba­longa is out un­til Christ­mas – un­der­mines all that pretty win­dow dress­ing.

Dex­ter Black­stock bat­tled man­fully. Ward pestered and probed. The former Derby man was eas­ily For­est’s bright­est spark, even if he was lucky to stay on the pitch af­ter aim­ing a daft slap at a sport­ingly non-plussed Jose Semedo.

But the bru­tal fact is that For­est mus­tered just one at­tempt on goal, a wafty free-kick dis­dain­fully pat­ted down by Keiran West­wood.

If ru­mours are to be be­lieved, fail­ure to beat either Pre­ston or ri­vals Derby will put Dougie Freed­man out of a job, but the Scot was philo­soph­i­cal about his prospects.

“I’ve been in this po­si­tion be­fore,” he said. “And what you look for is com­mit­ment and perserver­ence. I thought that was there.

“I know that foot­ball is ruth­less. I get that it’s a re­sults-based busi­ness. I know the con­se­quences of too many de­feats.

“But we’re work­ing from a set of rules that’s very, very dif­fi­cult. The chair­man un­der­stands that and I think the sup­port­ers do as well.

“You’ll al­ways get tweet­ers and peo­ple who don’t come to the games who only look at re­sults. But a month ago we were close to the play-offs. We’re do­ing OK.”

Car­val­hal, al­ready loved by sup­port­ers, has no such wor­ries. “Things are go­ing very well,” he added. “I’m very happy. But I al­ways say that vic­to­ries are the en­emy of the coach. They can make you com­pla­cent and we can­not al­low that.”

LET FLY: Forestieri gets an­other ef­fort in un­der pres­sure

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images

ONE AND DONE: Sh­effield Wed­nes­day's Fer­nando Forestieri cel­e­brates scor­ing the win­ning goal, in­set

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