Opposition view: Luhukay has restored hope at Wednesday after injuries ruined season
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Ahead of today’s final-day game at Hillsborough, EDP and Evening News entertainment editor Simon Parkin, a Norfolk-based Owls fan, reviews a season which has not gone to plan for Sheffield Wednesday.
From successive seasons of play-off qualification, to mid-table mediocrity, what’s gone wrong this season?
We underestimated the hangover of missing out in the play-offs two successive seasons and failed to refresh the squad last summer with poor recruitment. We got off to a terrible start in the first game at Preston (losing 1-0) and stuttered from there, picking up a ridiculous number of injuries. At one point 16 key players were out.
Carlos Carvalhal seems to be proving popular at Swansea, do you still think it was the right time to sack him?
It’s moot point whether he was sacked or walked with the Swansea job in the offing. Either way it felt like the right time as he seemed to have lost his way. Some wanted him to go last summer after our poor showing in the play-off semis. That would have been harsh given we finished fourth.
Which brings us on to Jos Luhukay. Who is he and is he any good as a manager?
He’s a Dutch manager who has previously only managed in Germany, where he got three teams promoted to the Bundesliga. Given the nightmare he inherited with injuries, he has done pretty well and seems to have a plan for next season. He has given debuts to several youngsters too, something Carlos never did.
Five wins in the last eight games, how much has that had to do with Fernando Forestieri’s return to fitness?
That’s been a big part of it. He is a bit of a talisman for us and can create something out of nothing. But the return of Barry Bannan and Tom Lees has been just as important. A scoring streak from Atdhe Nuhiu was vital too when it looked like we might get sucked into a relegation battle.
Former City striker Gary Hooper had 11 goals before getting injured in December, is he a popular player at Hillsborough?
He is one of our key players. We always look better when he is in the team and miss his ability to link midfield and attack. He had formed a decent partnership with Steven Fletcher before they both got injured. That’s the big drawback – he seems unable to stay fit for a full season.
Have any of the players impressed this season?
Adam Reach has won the player of the year awards, though that may be partly because he is the only player who has stayed fit. He has four goals and nine assists and has started to justify the £5million we paid for him. Young goalkeepers Joe Wildsmith and Cameron Dawson have been fantastic.
And which have been disappointing?
Where do you start? We have a whole shadow squad of perpetually injured players, like Almen Abdi who has never got going for us since arriving for £4m. Jacob Butterfield has also been extremely underwhelming following Carlos’ decision to do a loan swap with Derby for Sam Winnall.
Are there reasons to be hopeful looking ahead to next season?
I think so, certainly compared to this season. Having players back from injury should mean we are competitive in the top half of the table. Luhukay is also said to be a stickler for fitness, something that was a big issue under Carlos. We are close to the financial fair play limits though, so you can’t rule out high profile departures.
Have you been surprised to see Norwich adrift of the play-offs?
I had them down for the fringes of the play-offs but I’m not totally surprised. Though they recently came down from the Premier League, they did lose a lot of good players. It seems like the club are in transition under Farke. It will be interesting to see if supporters are as patient next season.
Are there any players in the Norwich squad you’d take to Wednesday if you could?
Maddison obviously, along with the supporters of just about every other club. He is quite clearly destined for the Premier League though. I imagine Norwich face an anxious summer to keep hold of him. We have needed pace out wide for three years, so Josh Murphy too.
And finally, what is your prediction for today’s game?
Norwich have the carrot of wanting to finish above Ipswich, and there is a faint hope we might finish above Leeds. With the likes Forestieri returning we’ve actually finished the season quite well, but I wouldn’t rule out Maddison scoring (a farewell goal?). I’ll go 2-2.