12 Games In
Thoughts before the next wave of games hits us

12 games in, and after the second international break, is a decent time for a stock-take of where we are and what the next phase might hold. I have to be honest and say that I didn’t quite expect to be where we are, not before the season started and certainly not after that terrible performance at Brentford, so I am delighted to be in the top 6. Since that poor outing in West London we have only been totally off our game in the trip to Forest – we’ve been good in parts in all the others if not always hitting the highs for 90 minutes. The nearest we have come to that was at Villa and at home to West Brom but in others we’ve been at our best for 45 minutes or so but that has been enough to earn some creditable results. We need to be at it for 70 mins plus and learn how to keep clean sheets, if we do that we can be a play-off contender.

JL’s had a tough time in the hot seat and has needed the time and space that some were not willing to give him, but he has silenced his critics so far with a mix of bravery and judgement in giving younger players their opportunities and making it clear to some senior players that it’s JL’s way or the highway. Thankfully Matt Penney, Ash Baker, Fraser Preston and others have delivered for him as has his flexible approach to team shape and tactics. Michael Hector and Josh Onomah have also brought something to the party adding quality, calmness and pace at the back from Hector and a bit of drive in midfield from Onomah. Allied to that Bannan has been excellent and Joey has made a sterling contribution, particularly when we’ve had to dig in at times. We need to add a bit more consistency within games and between them and we then give ourselves a chance. Any regression back to the form of early August will be punished in this league of that there is no doubt.

I saw Sam Winnall in the under 23’s last week and I was impressed by how sharp he looked considering how long he has been out and the seriousness of the injury he had. I have to say I thought he had burnt all his boats at Hillsborough, and he could still move on in January, but if he wants to make a contribution I would be pleased to give him the chance. He is a goal scorer and a manager usually knows what he is going to get from him in terms of attitude and work rate. Hutch had a steady 60 minutes at centre back and will no doubt get some more Under 23’s time before he’s back. Sadly we appear to nowhere nearer seeing Gary Hooper or Kieran Lee pulling on the shirt which is starting to get very worrying after both have been out for so long. There will no doubt be further scrutiny of the squad, both injured and non-injured but surplus to needs, as we approach the transfer windows to come. Our focus on youth looks likely to continue and getting Matt Penney signed up for the long term will be a key part of that.

We now have 5 games in prospect before the next international break starting with a tough ask against Boro and a visit to that place across the city that sandwich games against Norwich, QPR and Birmingham, none of whom are in bad form. The Championship is relentless and it’s very entertaining – if only the challenges thrown up by the interactions of the P&S rules, parachute payments and generous allowable losses were sorted we would have an even more competitive league that, in many ways, would put the Premier League to shame. We can hope that change will come in time. But in the meantime we need to support our team and manager – they face no major expectation pressures and they shouldn’t do either. We have to take the games as they come, and the chunks of games as they come and assess as we go. We can’t get too high when it goes well or get too down when it goes wrong – support or constructive criticism when needed are fine in my book, but we have to keep in perspective that we were not expected to be in the top 6 and if we are it’s a bonus. Let’s hope we can maintain the post Brentford form as we move forward. Up the Owls!

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