Wednesday’s room to improve: Where Darren Moore still needs to strengthen if they’re to challenge fo
Following playoff misery at the hands of eventual Wembley-winners Sunderland, The Owls have made a flying start to the summer transfer window bringing in 7 new recruits as they hope to go that one step further this campaign. But with under two weeks until the 2022/23 season kicks off, there is still some business needed for Darren Moore’s side to be celebrating promotion back to the Championship come May.
Following the departure of several senior defenders, Darren Moore who was himself a centre back in his playing days, bolstered his backline with the additions of Ben Heneghan, Akin Famewo and Michael Ihiekwe. The centre halves are brought in to try and fix what was at times a patchy defence at S6 last term, when The Owls particularly struggled with keeping out set pieces and aerially balls into their box.
Heneghan, brought in on a free transfer following a two-year spell at AFC Wimbledon has 132 League One appearances to his name, adding 6’3 ft to the Wednesday defence whilst being renowned for his ability to defend crosses. Despite enduring relegation with The Dons last season, the 28-year-old leaves Plough Lane with a good reputation and could add some much-needed steel to the Wednesday defence.
Similarly, Akin Famewo signing from Norwich has plenty of familiarity with the league having spent the last two seasons on loan at Charlton. At the age of 23, Famewo represents a smart deal for The Owls with his best years ahead of him. The Luton Town academy graduate also brings some much-needed balance to the Hillsborough backline as he becomes Wednesday’s only left-footed centre back. With Moore preferring the three-at-the-back formation, Famewo will be a much more natural fit to that left centre half position than his right-footed teammates.
The third and most impressive centre back addition is that of Michael Ihiekwe who helped The Millers gain promotion last season before swapping the Red of Rotherham for the blue and white of Wednesday on a free transfer last month. The 29-year-old defender enjoyed an impressive stint at The New York Stadium, achieving two promotions to the Championship in his 5 years, rounding off his time at Rotherham with a spot in the 2021/22 League One team of the season. Ihiekwe brings plenty of nous not only in playing third division football but also in the three-at-the-back system with the defender comfortable playing in any of the three defensive slots.
The new arrivals join Dominic Iorfa as Moore’s centre back options following the departures of Chey Dunkley and Sam Hutchinson along with the end of Harlee Dean and Jordan Storey’s loan moves. Liam Palmer provides some important versatility amongst The Owls ranks, having played a number of positions including centre half last season, but often struggled to find consistently in the central defensive positions with the boyhood Wednesdayite much more suited to a wide role.
Palmer excluded, just 4 recognised centre halves are available at Hillsborough and with Moore’s commonly used 3-5-2 formation it feels like there is need for at least one more out-and-out centre back.
Harlee Dean added some solidity in his limited playing time at the end of last season. Standing at 6’3 ft and with plenty of Championship and League One experience under his belt, the Birmingham City man would seemingly be the obvious solution to Wednesday’s defensive weaknesses. The 30-year-old spoke confidently about a permanent move to the South Yorkshire club during his loan with The Owls after the former Blues captain had fallen out of favour at his parent club. However, the dismissal of Birmingham’s manager Lee Bowyer just a few weeks ago added a stumbling block to Wednesday’s interest with new appointment John Eustace keen to assess the options available at St Andrews.
Another route The Owls hierarchy have enjoyed going down over recent years is the loan market. Haydon Roberts was a name Moore was thought to be keen to add on a temporary basis until the Brighton defender joined Derby last week. If the Wednesday boss is still looking to utilise the loan window, then he should look no further than Mattie Pollock. The Watford defender is fresh off an encouraging loan at Cheltenham where he appeared 34 times. The 20-year-old is good in the air as well as with the ball at his feet by all accounts and is already accustomed to the division. Having played 46 League Two games as a teenager at Grimsby Town before his big move to London, Pollock is a player with bags of lower league experience and will be keen to bag more minutes with another year away.
The Wednesday skipper Barry Bannan has been one of The Owls’ most creative outlets since moving to the steel city 7 years ago and enjoyed his most prolific campaign last season with 9 goals and 12 assists earning him a place in the third division team of the year. Wednesday have often been accused of relying too heavily on the Scotsman at times and struggle to find any cutting edge when Bannan is unavailable or having one of his few off days. Adding another younger up and coming playmaker who is able to link the midfield to the forwards would not be a bad idea especially with ‘Bazza’ reaching the twilight years of his career.
Elliot Anderson is a name that has been linked with a loan move to Wednesday following an explosive loan helping Bristol Rovers gain promotion from League Two. The 19-year-old is highly thought of by parent club Newcastle with a queue of teams across the EFL keen to secure a loan move for the youngster. Anderson grabbed 8 goals and 5 assists in just 21 appearances for Joey Barton’s side, with the teen able to play several attacking positions on either wing as well as in the number 10. Anderson would certainly add something exciting that The Owls squad currently lacks but would require some effort to convince the midfielder to pick Hillsborough. But, if there’s one thing we know about Darren Moore it’s never to underestimate his pulling power.
Another player who impressed for The Gas last season was Anthony Evans. Alike Anderson, Evans brings some versatility going forward able to play wide as well as behind the strikers and was a key man in Bristol Rovers’ promotion campaign contributing 10 goals and 13 assists in his 35 games in the fourth tier. At the age of 23, Evans has time on his side and would be a good addition to the ranks at S6 but would require a decent fee with the former Everton youngster has recently signing a new 3-year-deal at the Memorial Stadium.
Two more players from the lower leagues that The Owls could temp away from their current employers are John McAtee of Grimsby Town and Ruben Rodrigues from Notts County.
Both on the back of impressive goalscoring seasons in the National League netting 16 and 19 times respectively would be eager for a chance to climb the football pyramid and test themselves in League One. John McAteer may be the harder to tempt having secured League Two football with The Mariners via the National League playoffs last May, in which he scored two of his 16 goals. With the latter 22 years of age and Rodrigues 25, both have plenty to offer but represent more of a risk as neither are proven at Wednesday’s level and may find it difficult to deal with such a significant jump. The two number 10s showed to be too good for non-league last term and would add something different to the current options available to Darren Moore, perhaps one of them could be worth the gamble if the price was right.
An impressive 20 members of the Wednesday squad hit the back of the net in League One last season, however Lee Gregory was the only man able to notch double figures with his 16 goal mark leading the way, Bannan coming in at second with 9 just ahead of the recently released Saido Berahino who struck 8. So, despite the large number of scorers Sheffield-born Gregory still needs some help to ease the goalscoring burden off his shoulders and The Owls could do with another player or two capable of hitting the teens this season.
Darren Moore has already bolstered his attacking options with the surprise arrival of Michael Smith who was Rotherham’s top scorer last term bagging 18 in the league. Somewhat of a statement signing Smith comes in as one of the most dangerous names in the third division and is a welcome addition to the Wednesday camp.
With both Florian Kamberi and Saido Berahino no longer with The Owls there is still room for another weapon in the Wednesday barracks, and Moore would be wise to add more depth with both Josh Windass and Lee Gregory missing chunks of last year due to injury.
One name heavily-linked to a switch to the League One side is Hull City’s Mallik Wilks. It looked as though a deal had been done for the 23-year-old forward with personal terms reportedly agreed but the move has hit a hurdle with The Tigers no longer satisfied by Wednesday’s £200K bid for the attacker. The former Barnsley forward is an exciting player with the ability to play in any attacking position, holding an inspiring record at League One level having scored 19 times in Hull’s 2020/21 promotion season also delivering 8 assists across the campaign. It is yet to be seen whether The Owls can strike a deal with their Yorkshire counterparts but may be worth assessing other avenues should a deal not come to fruition.
The forward position may be one that Wednesday owner, Dejphon Chansiri, is willing to throw a bit of cash at. If so, a perhaps ambitious target could be that of Jerry Yates from Blackpool. The 25-year-old would bring something different to the current options at S6. The striker’s clever movement and the tenacity he gives to the frontline may work well in a two-up-top alongside either Smith or Gregory. In a similar partnership Yates often played alongside former Owl Gary Madine in Blackpool’s 2020/21 League One Playoff winning season, in which he grabbed 20 goals for the Tangerines. Off the back of a decent year in the Championship scoring 8 times, Yates is held in high regard at Bloomfield Road and it would probably take a fair sum of money to tempt Blackpool into parting with their man.
A name who was linked with The Owls at the beginning of the summer is QPR frontman Macauley Bonne. Hitting 12 goals in 43 games on loan at Ipswich last season, Bonne may be keen on another move to League One to try and improve on his tally after dropping down the pecking order at Loftus Road. The Zimbabwean international who enjoyed his best scoring years at Leyton Orient netting 45 in 91 games at National League level, has just one year remaining on his current deal and the London club may be open to a sale of their forward rather than losing the 26-year-old on a free next summer.
It's certainly been a strong window so far at Hillsborough, with The Owls now champions elect in League One. However, Moore would be wise to add a few more names to his squad and patch a few of the holes still currently in the Wednesday ranks. Should the correct additions be made in the remainder of the summer, the sky could well be the limit for this Owls team.