7 April ~ "We won't be going to Huddersfield to defend," said Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones in his pre-match press conference on Thursday. Jones has yet to taste defeat as Owls boss and his desire to play fast, attacking football since controversially replacing Gary Megson in March has been welcomed by Owls fans. In Simon Grayson's Huddersfield Town his team will face another side intent on going forward rather than sitting back. Given that the meeting between the two clubs at Hillsborough in December ended 4-4, and automatic promotion is still within reach for both, this game between League One's third and fourth place sides promises to be full of excitement.
Wednesday had been labouring before Jones took charge but the players seem to have pushed on under their new manager. Jones has undoubtedly been helped by the arrival of Michail Antonio, his predecessor's final signing, on loan from Reading. Combined with the return of Jermaine Johnson from injury, the loan signing of Keith Treacy from Burnley and the emergence of Mike Jones, Wednesday now have plenty of options out wide. There is no disputing that their slump in form coincided with the departure of Ben Marshall, the influential winger who was on loan from Stoke for the first half of the season.
Dave Jones plays with two wide men, hitting teams quickly down the flanks and getting crosses into the box. As a result Gary Madine, himself fit again after injury, has rediscovered his early-season scoring form. Madine's likely strike partner at the Galpharm will be yet another loanee, this time Nile Ranger from Newcastle. The appearance of these two up-front has caused many to joke that they are as likely to get arrested as they are score goals, but they are both big, powerful players who give defenders a torrid time. With the predatory Ryan Lowe and tireless Chris O'Grady ready to come off the bench, Wednesday have ample attacking options should changes need to be made.
If Wednesday can boast plenty of options going forward, Huddersfield's attacking prowess is intimidating. The Terriers have scored 75 goals this season, less only than second place Sheffield United and Premier League leaders Manchester United in the top four divisions. In Jordan Rhodes, they have the most prolific striker in the country. His 35 league goals this season have rightly earned him praise and it was a surprise to many outside the club that he did not leave for a higher division in January. He also happened to score all four of Huddersfield's goals against Wednesday in December. To contain him, Dave Jones could always seek help from Rhodes' family – his father Andy is goalkeeping coach at Hillsborough.
Failing that, the battle of two sides with obvious attacking intent may well be decided by the full backs. If Huddersfield's Tom Clarke and Calum Woods fail to contain the pace of Antonio and Johnson, the Terriers may well be forced so deep that Rhodes and Alan Lee are left isolated up front. That would allow Wednesday's full-backs, Lewis Buxton and Reda Johnson, license to support their wingers and overload the Terriers often shaky defence. Once Wednesday begin to get crosses into the box, forcing corners as well as throw-ins (Antonio has an excellent long throw) and free-kicks, their superiority at set-plays is likely to be decisive.
Should Clarke and Woods manage to get the better of the two Wednesday wingers, the emphasis will be on Reda Johnson and Buxton to stop the marauding Lee Novak and Gary Roberts. If Wednesday allow those two to supply Rhodes with enough ammunition, the lethal Scottish striker will surely put the game beyond their reach.
Victory for Huddersfield would move them above Wednesday and into third place. The Owls will be keen to take advantage of the early kick off and heap more pressure on their city rivals, who entertain Bournemouth at Bramall Lane. A Wednesday defeat, or even draw, combined with a United win will surely put the Blades out of reach in the automatic promotion places, leaving the prospect of these two teams meeting again at Wembley in May a very real one. Tom Hocking