Optimistic Owls: Can Sheffield Wednesday Avoid The Drop?

15.03.2024 18:10:23 Ashlee Kiddell
Aerial view of Hillsborough Stadium. Home of Sheffield Wednesday FC.
  • Sheffield Wednesday earned promotion back to the Championship last season with a dramatic play-off win over Barnsley
  • Danny Röhl took charge of the club in October 2023, becoming the youngest manager in the English Football League 
  • The German coach has given Wednesday a chance of staying up and they are just one point off escaping the drop zone

 

The route back to the Championship  

Sheffield Wednesday gained promotion back to the English second tier last season, doing so via the play-offs. Darren Moore was able to guide the South Yorkshire club to the Championship in dramatic fashion.  

All looked lost for the Owls after losing 4-0 in the first leg of their semi-final play-off tie against Peterborough United. However, in a miraculous turnaround, Wednesday took the second leg to extra time after going 4-0 up themselves thanks to a dramatic 90+8th minute goal by Liam Palmer. 

Extra time saw two more goals go in for either side and penalties were on the horizon. Sheffield Wednesday would convert all five of their spot kicks during the shootout to put themselves through to the final. 

The play-off final would pit them up against fellow South Yorkshire side Barnsley. Albeit not fierce rivals, securing promotion against the Tykes proved sweet. Again, more late drama would ensue.  

With more extra time action needed, it was Josh Windass who scored right at the death (three minutes into added time of extra time) to put Wednesday back in the Championship, crushing the hearts of their Yorkshire rivals, and saving the nails of their own travelling support by avoiding another penalty shootout. 

 

How have they fared in their Championship return? 

In spite of Moore’s remarkable play-off triumph, Wednesday opted to go for another coach in their bid for survival. That saw them appoint Spanish coach Xisco Munoz. Nevertheless, he lasted just ten league games in charge. 

The former Watford boss had failed to pick up a single victory for the Owls during his tenure, losing eight of his 10 league outings. It was a swift period at Hillsborough for Xisco and the club would turn to Danny Röhl for their next permanent manager. 

Following a slow start, marred by a plethora of injury issues across the squad, the German coach failed to improve things in the short-term, picking up just one win in his first seven league games. 

However, Röhl has revived the hopes for a survival bid this season. Since December, Sheff Wed have won 10 of their 19 matches in the Championship, including four of their last five. That still leaves them down in the drop zone but they are within touching distance of escaping the bottom three, currently just one point behind 21st-placed Birmingham City

 

What has Röhl done to turn things around? 

Röhl became the youngest coach in the Championship when he was appointed Owls boss last October. The 34-year-old is undertaking his maiden managerial role but he has previously secured vital experience at the top level as coach at RB Leipzig, Southampton and Bayern Munich, as well as being the assistant manager of the German national team whilst Hansi Flick was in charge. 

Being in and amongst elite level players has certainly aided Röhl’s ability as a head coach. However, the main question before becoming Wednesday manager was, how will he fare at a lower level? 

Well, even if he isn’t able to keep Wednesday up, there’s no doubt that there has been a significant improvement since his arrival. The German wants his players to play in a bold manner, not afraid to take risks. Despite that increase in risk-taking, Sheffield Wednesday have been excellent defensively of late. 

The Owls have kept four clean sheets over their last seven games, picking up 15 points in the process. Their only defeats in that time have come against league leaders Leicester City and fellow promotion contenders Leeds United, and they have beaten Birmingham City, Millwall, Bristol City, Rotherham United and Plymouth Argyle in that time to give them a serious chance at staying up. 

 

New signings and a new system

With only loan signings during the winter transfer window, Röhl has done well to get the most out of the squad. Still, the additions of Ike Ugbo, Ian Poveda and James Beadle have proven pivotal, with the trio establishing themselves as regulars in the side.  

The arrival of Canada international Ugbo has been the most significant. The Troyes-owned forward has bagged six goals in ten Championship appearances, scoring six goals over his last seven appearances. That led him to being nominated for February Championship Player of the Month. Equally, Beadle has proven important in between the sticks, keeping a total of five clean sheets.  

Not only have the personnel changes made a vital impact but a change in system has also been incredibly fruitful. Röhl has had to deal with a surfeit of injury issues throughout his time in charge but he has managed that superbly, and has now settled on a consistent formation. Consistency is one of his key philosophies too. 

A 5-2-3 formation has worked over the Owls’ impressive winning streak. It has helped improve Wednesday defensively, whilst Marvin Johson has performed well at left wing-back after being given the licence to push forward. 

A central-midfield pairing of Will Vaulks and Barry Bannan has been the most useful, with the former offering more defensive guile than the latter. Bannan’s revised role as a deeper player has resulted in far less goal contributions than he is usually accustomed too but the 34-year-old has adapted to his new role superbly.  

That has allowed the typical front three of Poveda-Ugbo-Musaba to prosper. Poveda has been ever-present since his January move, starting in six of Wednesday’s last seven games. Meanwhile, Anthony Musaba and Djeidi Gassama have been used in tandem over on the opposite flank. 

 

Can the Owls survive?  

With just nine league games left of the campaign, we’re heading towards the business end of the season. The Championship is a historically tight league and that hasn’t changed for 2023/24. Just three points separate Sheff Wed in second from bottom and Plymouth in 17th-place. 

Momentum and consistency to conclude the season will be of paramount importance if the Owls are to seal their spot in the English second tier for next season. Recent form suggests that, in fact, Sheff Wed have an excellent chance at staying up. They have picked up more points over their last ten than all but one of the rest of the bottom eight. 

Their final run-in pits them up against just three teams that could potentially earn promotion. Matchups against fellow relegation candidates in Queens Park Rangers, Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers will be key. The Owls’ form heading into the remaining games bodes well and the fixture list looks relatively kind. Röhl has certainly given Wednesday hope. 

 

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