FORESTIERI CHOPS DOWN FOREST AS OWLS DREAM
Carvalhal’s boys in Premier hunt
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
ONE AND DONE: Sheffield Wednesday's Fernando Forestieri celebrates scoring the winning goal, inset