A big club with a celebrated history. Twenty years out of the top flight, not forgetting a couple of seasons in League One. A rich owner without a plan. A side without a win since early November. A recently appointed but experienced Championship manager struggling to turn the tide.
Yes, the only difference between Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest is pretty much the six-point deduction which has kept them rooted to the bottom of the table. And their performance at the City Ground was painfully reminiscent of the Reds in recent weeks.
In contrast, the hour-long discussion in the dressing room after the defeat by Norwich City — and Joe Worrall’s obvious pain at losing to Brentford — seem to spark something in the home side last night. There was possession, dedication and a game plan to advance…
With Scott McKenna still struggling with an ankle injury, and both Tobias Figueiredo and Anthony Knockaert suspended, Alex Mighten and Loic Mbe Soh made the first XI, with Lewis Grabban on the bench.
The first four minutes were much like the final four minutes of many games Forest have been chasing. And this early pressure brought an impressive goal — Cafu, excelling in a man of the match performance, played the ball across the box into the path of the oncoming Yuri Ribeiro, who hit it first time past the outstretched arms of Joe Wildsmith.
An early goal, nerves settled, confidence emerging… this was not the Forest of the past few weeks. That said Wednesday looked nothing like the sides we’ve faced during that time. There was little pressing and a lot of sitting back, allowing Cafu, Sammy Ameobi, Lyle Taylor, Mighten and both full-backs space to flood into their half.
Samba Sow, as we know he can, was the midfield engine, complemented by the energetic Ryan Yates, with the centre-backs largely untroubled.
Wednesday came back into the game as the half drew on, but Forest limited them to one shot on target. And Taylor almost made it two, seven minutes before the break. In the second-half the visitors barely made any effort to bother Brice Samba.
The second half performance from Sheffield Wednesday at Nottingham Forest when 1-0 down, remembering Forest had lost 6 of their last 7 games. #swfcpic.twitter.com/pGbcBIyYpm
Still, at 1-0 it always feels precarious with Forest and the introduction of Grabban for the last 15 minutes sealed the three points. Looking hungry, eager and much more like the 20-goal striker of last season, his goal was everything we’ve come to expect from him.
A short pass to Ameobi and a run into space, the return ball looped into the box and Grabban looked determined to take the ball from the advancing Tom Lees. Once he was through on goal his first-time strike wasn’t going anywhere other than into the back of the net. Any confidence he’d been lacking before injury would appear to have gone, and his ability to hold the line and move off the ball is something we will again benefit from.
Mighten and Mbe Soh both looked assured, and Chris Hughton will no doubt have selection issues on Saturday at Millwall.
Let’s not see this as anything more than a starting point. We’ve already had false dawns this season. Wednesday were distinctly poor, in comparison to the likes of Norwich and Bournemouth, and that should come as no surprise. But the determination and dedication on the pitch proved that the players can turn this around, and all credit to them.
Hughton added: “It made a massive difference to get that early goal and it changed the emotions of the game. It is a happy changing room tonight and even though we are still in the same position in the league table, it gives us something to build on and hopefully it will bring better results moving forwards.
“Irrespective of the run they are on or where they are in the table, Sheffield Wednesday have some talented individuals and they were always likely to have a strong percentage of the ball. We got to grips with our shape superbly and I have to say I am almost as happy with the clean sheet as I am with the two goals tonight.”