BULLEN IS BACKING BRUCE FOR OWLS JOB
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY 1 PRESTON NORTH END 0 CHAMPIONSHIP
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY are expected to appoint Steve Bruce as their new manager this week.
The Yorkshire Post understands the former Hull City manager is in advanced talks to succeed Jos Luhukay, who was sacked on Friday.
Steve Agnew, Bruce’s assistant, and coach Stephen Clemence were at Hillsborough on Saturday to watch the Owls beat Preston North End 1-0.
If a deal can be finalised Agnew and Clemence could join the club over the Christmas period with Bruce joining them next week after returning from a pre-planned family holiday.
Caretaker manager Lee Bullen – who saw Michael Hector net the winner against Preston – believes Bruce’s record in the Championship would make him an ideal choice for Owls’ chairman Dejphon Chansiri.
Bruce, who also had spells in charge at Sheffield United and Huddersfield Town, has won promotion to the Premier League four times in spells with Hull and Birmingham City.
The 57-year-old was in charge of the Hull side that beat Wednesday in the Championship play-off final in 2016.
“I think if you get the opportunity to speak to someone of the experience of Steve Bruce at this level you don’t knock that opportunity back,” said Bullen.
“At this level I think you can only point to Steve Bruce or our good friend at Cardiff (Neil Warnock) as the ones who just have an unbelievable record of success.
“Steve will be hurting with the way things went at Aston Villa, absolutely, but if you get the opportunity to speak to someone like that – a British coach that knows the Championship inside out – then you don’t knock back the opportunity to speak to him. Whether anything comes of it, I don’t know.
“Let’s see what the next 24 hours hold.
“They are really good football people and I have always had a really good relationship with these guys.”
Hector’s 62nd-minute header gave the Owls only their second victory in 11 games.
Asked how he thought Agnew and Clemence would assess the Owls, Bullen replied: “If they have watched the last five to 10 games, they’d probably think, ‘Geez, we are jumping into the frying pan’.
“But hopefully they will look at that performance against Preston and think, ‘ you know what, there is a good team there that has been playing well below par’.
“If they play like that with the discipline they showed against Preston for large spells of the game then it’s not a bad job to potentially be going in for.”
Bullen was due to take training today and tomorrow ahead of the Boxing Day trip to Middlesbrough followed by West Bromwich Albion away on Saturday.
If the deal to bring in Bruce is finalised his first game in charge could be against one of his former clubs Birmingham at Hillsborough on New Year’s Day.
As for Bullen’s own future, the 47-year-old Scot hopes to remain at a club he has served with distinction since arriving in Sheffield in 2004, as both player and coach.
“Everybody knows what this club means to me,” said Bullen. “My dream would be to be part of something for when this club eventually gets back to the Premier League.
“Whether that’s being involved with the Academy, or the first team, or any other role, that would be great.
“If you ask me, ‘ do I want to stay?’ Absolutely. But I am not silly – as soon as your ink is wet on the contract you’re a day closer to the sack.
“If he (Bruce) comes in, decides to change, then I will wish the lads all the best, take it on the chin, and I will be sat in the stands at Middlesbrough and West Brom, and bouncing, hopefully.”
IT says plenty about Keiren Westwood that he hardly got his gloves dirty on Saturday but helped solve Sheffield Wednesday’s leaky defence.
Rated as the best goalkeeper in the Championship before Jos Luhukay arrived at Hillsbororough in January, the Dutchman stubbornly refused to play Westwood this season.
Not even having the worst defence in the Championship – having conceded 40 goals in 22 games, and just two clean sheets – tempted Luhukay to take rookie Cameron Dawson out of the firing line.
But 24 hours after Luhukay’s exit, caretaker manager Lee Bullen picked Westwood for his first senior game of football since De- cember 9 last year. Come the final whistle on Saturday, there was a collective sigh of “I told you so” from the 22,000 Owls supporters inside the stadium.
Michael Hector’s second-half header earned Wednesday a welcome three points, but it was the return of Westwood – and the sight of out-of-favour midfield duo Sam Hutchinson and George Boyd making their first outings since August – which lifted the dark clouds which have gathered over Hillsborough this season.
It was like Westwood – the returning hero greeted before kickoff by huge cheers and applause from home fans – had never been away, bossing the defenders in front of him, prowling around his penalty area.
Westwood’s organisation seemed to instil new confidence into Wednesday’s hesitant defence, meaning the goalkeeper had little to do all game.
When 10-man Preston did put late pressure on Wednesday’s goal, deep into stoppage time, out roared Westwood through a hoarde of bodies with a thumping punch that Sheffield boxer Kell Brook would have been proud of.
“It was a perfect goalkeeping performance because he had little to do,” said Bullen.
“Give credit to the defenders in front, it’s not often we have been able to say that about the Sheffield Wednesday defensive unit this year.
“For me, it was that punch right at the end with that long throw coming in that summed it up.
“It was like ‘I’m not losing a goal today’. What a fantastic punch. That epitomised his performance because he didn’t have a great deal to do.
“What you get with Keiren is organisation of the back four. Credit to the lad for coming in after not playing in 12 months,” added Bullen, who had visited Dawson at his family home on Friday evening to inform the rookie that Westwood would be starting.
The goalkeeper – out of contract in the summer and linked with a January move – admitted he feared his Owls career was over.
Westwood said: “What a sur- real 24 hours. I honestly thought I would never pull on the SWFC jersey again.
“Whatever happens in the next month or over the course of the season, I will never forget the reception I received today by the fans.
“If I could personally thank everybody individually I would. Thanks to Bully for throwing me in, it wasn’t a pretty game, but we deserved the victory. I thought the lads in front of me were magnificent.”
The decision to recall Westwood was totally vindicated, and just like the return of entrance music Waterfront by Simple Minds, helped bring back the missing feelgood factor inside Hillsborough after a miserable run of just one win in 10 games.
There was little between the teams until Preston midfielder Ben Pearson was shown a straight red card, after catching Marco Matias with a high boot.
“I thought it was a rash challenge,” said Bullen.
“I think the ball was there to be won, but the lad (Pearson) was a bit late.”
Wednesday scented a chance, and twice Adam Reach delivered super crosses which came closing to breaking the stalemate.
First, he picked out Steven Fletcher, only for the striker’s header to be tipped wide by Declan Rudd.
But the North End goalkeeper was helpless when striker Lucas Joao powered in a header, from Reach’s right-wing cross, only for the ball to rebound to safety off the post.
Rudd was having an excellent game and produced a stunning one-handed save to thwart Matias from close-range – following Fletcher’s back-post header – to divert the ball for a corner.
But the goalkeeper was finally beaten when Josh Onomah’s cross was headed in by Michael Hector – the two loan players combining to great success.
“I’m buzzing to get my first goal for the club, and, hopefully, now we can kick on and get some positive results this Christmas,” said on-loan Chelsea defender Hector.
“It was always going to be a physical game, but we handled it well.
“We knew we had to be patient and the chance would come. Their keeper had a great game and on another day we might have scored three or four.”
That they did not was down to Rudd, who also palmed away Fletcher’s long-range drive.
Despite a few nervous moments after conceding several late free-kicks, the Owls held out for a welcome three points.
I honestly thought I would never pull on the SWFC jersey again.
Keiren Westwood, after his first game for Sheffield Wednesday in over a year.
LEE BULLEN: Took charge as the Owls got back to winning ways against Preston North End.
I’M BACK: Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Keiren Westwood celebrates his return to first-team action against Preston at Hillsborough.