It has been a fairly solid preseason at Hillsborough so far, especially by standards set in previous years. The kit has been released with rave reviews and is available for supporters to buy, the transfer window has been a productive one thus far and The Owls are looking sharp in their runouts. Along the way a few hints have been dropped through preseason in terms of team shape, transfer activity and potential light shows for the upcoming season at Hillsborough.
The kit numbers for the upcoming season were announced this week and leave a few clues towards the club’s transfer business being far from over. The most notable number without a name is the famous number 7. Often donned by an exciting attacking player, the space suggests that Darren Moore is still hoping to bolster his forward options. The Mallik Wilks transfer saga is still ongoing and whether his future lies at S6 remains to be seen. Interestingly though, Wilks’ squad number at Hull City has been the number 7 for the last three seasons. The 23-year-old also wore the 7 in his spell with Doncaster Rovers, and with the number currently free at Wednesday it begs the question as to whether The Owls are still confident of getting their man.
At the end of the day these are just numbers on a shirt and maybe it’s something that can be looked into a little too deeply, especially considering Wednesday’s past with squad numbers. It came as no surprise when Jordan Rhodes remained a benched striker rather than a tough-tackling defender more associated to the number 6 shirt he was given for the 2019/20 season. Aesthetically speaking, if you’re into the squad numbers for certain positions, the Owls list is pretty pleasing. Long gone are the days of the second-choice goalkeeper wearing the 2 shirt at Hillsborough.
The only real mishap for any nit-pickers is the lack of an actual number 1, with senior keepers Cameron Dawson and David Stockdale given shirts 25 and 31 respectively. Personally, I am a fan of neither goalkeeper being given the no.1 (in this case) as it is almost an indicator that the goalkeeper position is there to fight for and that Moore doesn’t have a preference on name alone. Although, as mentioned perhaps too much thought is sparked by such things. It is also worth noting that throughout his career David Stockdale has usually preferred to wear 13 or 31 whenever the ‘unlucky number’ has already been taken. Furthermore, Cameron Dawson has always been 25 for The Owls meaning there is no change on his end either. Whichever way you see it, it’s always good fun to speculate with things like this.
Lineups and shape
On topic of the battle between the sticks, new recruit Stockdale has been given the nod from the start so far in most of Wednesday’s preseason friendlies, with boyhood Owl Dawson replacing the veteran goalkeeper from the bench. Whether that is an indicator that the experienced Stockdale will be the one starting the season opener against Portsmouth only time will tell.
In terms of shape, Moore has continued to use his preferred 3-5-2 formation when lining up in these games. It comes as no surprise as it’s a system which was largely successful for most of last season. Wednesday’s transfer business also aligns with this system. Newly arrived defenders Akin Famewo, Ben Heneghan and Michael Ihiekwe all bring bodies needed at the back to have three regularly playing centre halves. Moreover, the latter had much success as part of a back three for promoted Rotherham United last term, with Ihiekwe able to play any of the three centre back positions with great comfort. Akin Famewo is another who will be well-suited to playing in a three, especially as the left sided defender. The 23-year-old comes in as Wednesday’s only left-footed central defender making him the natural selection for that left spot.
The addition of Reece James, a forward-thinking full-back, will be well-suited to the left wing-back role and gives Marvin Johnson some competition for that position, further cementing the Wednesday formation.
There may be one slight alteration to the setup if Moore fancies tinkering with his style, and that would be to replace one of the three in midfield with another forward making it more of a 3-4-3 formation. It’s a long season, especially in League One and sometimes teams like Wednesday need that extra bit of firepower when up against those sides that like to sit back and soak up the pressure. Perhaps it’s these types of games which will see The Owls boss throw an extra attacker into the mix. The front positions are already strong with Callum Paterson, Josh Windass, Lee Gregory and Michael Smith all competing for just two starting places, add to the mix another forward with Wednesday strongly linked to a few names, don’t be surprised to see Moore switch up the top end of the pitch.
As mentioned, it is still unclear whether Mallik Wilks will strut his stuff in blue and white this season. The Owls have also been linked to former Manchester United youngster Deji Sotona. Similarly, former Manchester City academy starlet Keyendrah Simmonds, now of Birmingham City, is another the Hillsborough recruitment team have on their list. All three of the above fit a similar mould of player, versatile, quick forwards but not out-and-out number 9 strikers. The types of player who would work well more in a front three rather than a two. This also suggests that the man in charge at S6 is pondering a possible plan to unleash three forwards at some point this season.
Wednesday have taken another step into the modern day and introduced a brand new ‘fanzone’ located just outside the Owls Megastore. There’s a bar, there’s seating, there’s live music and by all accounts there’s a good time. Credit should go to those in charge for the opening of the fanzone which if maintained can only really be a positive thing for the club.
Another addition round Hillsborough is the installation of new floodlights which now give Wednesday the ability for a light show. It shall be interesting to see whether the pre-match team decide to introduce a light display before Wednesday’s late home games or whether this is just an added feature with the new piece of kit.
The lights may not even be for the football club. Sheffield-born professional boxer Dalton Smith has enjoyed an impressive career so far and the famous Wednesdayite appeared in The Owls kit launch just a few weeks ago. The Yorkshireman who often wears retro Wednesday shorts during his fights has held the English super-lightweight title since May 2021 and has regularly spoke of his ambitions to headline a fight at his beloved Hillsborough. I am by no means an expert but maybe these new lights now give the stadium the ability to host such an event. Either way, it’s nice to see that work is being done in and around the ground and that things are kept fresh and updated in what has often been accused to be an out-dated arena.