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Sean's Programme Notes - Sheffield W

15 November 2012

I'd like to extend a welcome to the supporters, players and staff of Sheffield Wednesday to The City Ground for this afternoon's npower Championship game.

Our last two games at home to Middlesbrough and away to Leicester sum up for me where we are as a team at this minute.  

When we are bright in possession and use the ball well we look like we can score at any time. That belief is a real strength of this side. But if we let our organisation and discipline slip we look like we can concede just as easily. 

The standard of our performances against Middlesbrough and Leicester were very different but these two factors were common in both games.  

We are at a 'tipping point' in our season. To move things forward we have to address the issues that exist without losing the positives we have so far exhibited. 

In the first 16 league games of this season, we have been competitive in every game. To start turning draws into wins a slight change in system or one or two personnel changes might be something we have to look at. But we must be careful not to tinker too much with the fabric of the team as a draw could just as easily turn into a loss.  

Pre-season is usually the time system changes and experimenting with different combinations of players in different systems goes on. Through no-one's fault, this group hasn't had the benefit of a pre-season to have worked on things like this together. 

We are trying to find the perfect blend and balance during the unrelenting ferocity of the Championship. Combinations you think should work on paper don't necessarily translate onto the pitch and vice versa. Sometimes you have to take risks. When they come off you can strike gold in positively altering the team dynamic. When they don't, it can be horrible. 

In tandem, we are also asking players to think about things in training and in games in ways many of them have never done before. The focus is on decision-making, providing options, moving the ball quickly, looking after the ball in possession while all the while remaining organised and difficult to break down.  

Of course we could, and should, have won more games. But as a group I'm really pleased with how the players have tried to take on board the things we are encouraging them to do. When it has clicked we have looked a really good side. But when too many players have had an off day, or poor decisions have been made, we are vulnerable. 

No two games have demonstrated this better for me than Middlesbrough and Leicester. 

I had the opportunity to watch both teams live a number of times before we played them and was of the opinion they were the best two Championship teams I've seen this season. 

This time last year Middlesbrough and Leicester, along with Cardiff, all made several additions to their squads and were tipped to be among the leading promotion candidates. Now in their second seasons of development, each team has clearly benefitted from having made their mistakes last year and learned from them, while adding to their strong squads with players who fit into the way the managers have got their teams playing. 

You only have to look at Norwich, Swansea, Southampton and Reading as examples of how having a settled group of players, who have all played regularly together and understand their roles and responsibilities within a team, can be successful in this division. While all those teams have had talented individuals, their successes have arguably been down to each team being greater than the sum of its parts. Finding the right blend is critical in any success. 

Middlesbrough came to us having won their six previous games, including a well-deserved League Cup tie at a full-strength Sunderland, and all six of their previous away games. They are a team comfortable in possession, capable of scoring goals from all over the pitch and who have a potent attacking threat in their left back George Friend.  

To match them we knew we would have to be just as canny in possession while countering the threat down the left. It is credit to the players that not only did we dominate possession but we created a number of good goalscoring opportunities - something I hadn't seen any other side do against the well-drilled Middlesbrough defence. It was a game we arguably should have won. But as I mentioned before, there were also instances in the game where we lost focus and left ourselves exposed and vulnerable. The draw was disappointing but the performance was encouraging, especially off the back of the Millwall defeat. 

Whereas against Middlesbrough our decision-making had generally been good, at Leicester it was poor. Nigel Pearson's side had picked up 21 points from 24 at home this season so for us to create as many problems as we did for ourselves was careless and unnecessary. 

Yet even in a game in which Leicester had unquestionably had the lion's share of chances, we still showed qualities that made you think we could score at any time. Our first equaliser was a case in point. We moved the ball intelligently and quickly down the right and had levelled in eight passes from goalkeeper to goal. The approach play before the penalty was also good. We know we got the big decisions in our favour and were pleased to get a point. 

Congratulations and ongoing best wishes to Rowan Staszkiewicz who is running to a number of our away games, including Leicester, to raise money for Prostate UK and The Alzheimer's Society. Paul Barron, Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink and Nathan Beardsley from our coaching team supported Rowan's efforts by cycling 26.2 miles to Leicester with Rowan on Friday before Rowan returned to Nottingham by car to run the distance again on match-day! 

This whole season is going to be an evolution in which our focus will only ever be on the next game. Where that takes us time will tell, but please keep supporting your local team.  

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