Updated: Jul 29
The Owls kick off their 2022/23 League One season the same way they concluded last season, with a visit from Danny Cowley’s Portsmouth.
Similarly to that clash, Darren Moore’s men come into this one as the favourites but this time around also carry the added pressure of being the title front-runners for the upcoming season, at least in the eyes of the bookies.
That game just three months ago saw Wednesday round off their league season in style with a thrilling 4-1 victory landing The Owls a 4th place finish and a spot in the playoffs.
The Hillsborough faithful won’t need reminding how their chance at promotion ended and Darren Moore accordingly bolstered his squad over the summer in hopes that his team won’t need to rely on the lottery of the playoffs this time around.
Signing two of Rotherham United’s best performers last season, Michael’s Ihiekwe and Smith, saw The Owls’ promotion odds slashed with the latter smashing 24 goals for The Millers who finished runners-up.
Moore also added plenty of third tier nous with the arrivals of David Stockdale, Ben Heneghan, Akin Famewo, Reece James and Tyreeq Bakinson. Perhaps the biggest coup this window for The Owls was the free signing of Will Vaulks, also previously promoted at this level with Rotherham, who was released by Cardiff in June following 105 championship appearances for The Bluebirds.
Along with an already strong squad, Moore has brought in some real League One experience and genuine quality but is still not quite satisfied with his options as Wednesday search for another forward in Mallik Wilks and Kemar Roofe. Both are thought to be on the target list at S6 with Wilks reportedly agreeing to join the Yorkshire club before his current employers Hull City pulled the plug on the deal with the Tigers upping the players price tag. It remains to be seen whether Wednesday will get their man but the club certainly seem to be on the look out for at least one more big attacking player.
After a strong summer, the pressure is on Darren Moore this year and he’ll want his side to make the perfect start this Saturday, but standing in their way is a stern test.
Pompey themselves have had a busy summer bringing in 8 new recruits as they aim for a playoff push following a 10th place finish last term. In a similar vein to Vaulks at Wednesday, Marlon Pack left Cardiff on a free this summer to sign for Portsmouth and brings plenty of higher-level experience to the midfield as well as plenty of grit and physicality. Defenders Michael Morrison and Joe Rafferty also join following a number of years in the Championship adding solidity to the Pompey backline whilst Josh Griffiths has big gloves to fill following Gavin Bazunu’s impressive loan between the sticks last season, the 20-year-old comes in from West Brom also on a loan deal.
Joe Piggott and Colby Bishop make up a new exciting Pompey attack but also have quite the job of replacing their predecessors George Hirst and Marcus Harness who will be big misses for Danny Cowley’s side. Piggott comes in as part of the Harness sale to promotion contenders Ipswich, with the new Portsmouth man unable to replicate his AFC Wimbledon form at the East Anglian club. With 53 League One goals in 183 games, the 28-year-old is certainly a threat and will be looking for a fast start at his latest club after his big move to Ipswich didn’t work out. Similarly, Colby Bishop boasts a record of 31 in 112 games at this level with 11 coming last season for Accrington Stanley and the striker will be looking to better that tally after he snubbed Championship interest in favour of Fratton Park.
Ronan Curtis always represents a threat for Portsmouth with the winger hitting 10 plus goals in each of his four seasons since signing from Derry City. Played predominantly on the left side, Curtis enjoys cutting inside onto his stronger right foot and if in the mood could cause the Wednesday defence all kinds of problems.
Saturday’s visitors also look to be strong at the back with new arrival Morrison joining Sean Raggett and captain Clark Robertson to make up a very solid looking central defence. Lee Gregory and potential debutant Michael Smith look set for a real battle along with Will Vaulks who will lock horns with ex-teammate Marlon Pack in the middle cooking up some very interesting duels.
Joe Morrell and Michael Jacobs look as though they will miss out through injury, with Morrell particularly a big loss for the away side as the Welshman featured heavily last term with 36 appearances in his debut season at Fratton Park. For Darren Moore’s side the only major doubt is whether Will Vaulks has made a full recovery following a slight knock he picked up in preseason.
It’s always tricky to know exactly how Darren Moore is going to line up his sides, even more so for a season opener. Although there has been talk of a four-at-the-back formation, preseason suggests Wednesday will shape up in their preferred 3-5-2.
The Owls back line is a completely fresh one from last season with Dom Iorfa the only remaining centre back, whilst neither Cam Dawson nor David Stockdale were at the club last season. At the back I wouldn’t be surprised to see any combination of players though I have an inkling that new boy Stockdale will get the nod in goal.
I’d expect Moore to stick with the two wide men who were so influential in Wednesday’s brilliant form since the turn of 2022 putting Jack Hunt and Marvin Johnson at wingback.
Byers and Bannan were also two of the first names on the team sheet during that run with Vaulks potentially getting the third midfield position if fit.
Up front it will be interesting to see if Michael Smith is handed a debut or whether The Owls boss sticks with the familiarity of Josh Windass and Lee Gregory. Last year’s top scorer starts for me but I’m struggling to call whether he’ll be partnered by the presence of Smith or the energy of Windass.
I envision a tight game, maybe a bit more rough and frustrating than Wednesday will want but ultimately I see The Owls prevailing. My biggest worry for the hosts would be that despite a new backline their weakness of defending set places seemed to rear it’s ugly head once again in preseason. However, I believe that Wednesday just have too much attacking talent in this team and they’ll ready to hit the ground running. 2-1 my prediction; a goal from Byers and a late one from Smith after Bishop initially gives Portsmouth the lead. Watch this space.