Dom Howson column: Festive period is crucial for Owls

Fernando ForestieriFernando Forestieri
Fernando Forestieri
All of the Championship's top-six clubs go head-to-head with each over the next 48 hours, starting with Leeds United's televised trip to Brighton and Hove Albion tonight.

Leaders Newcastle United entertain Birmingham City and the Owls, of course, travel to third-placed Reading tomorrow.

The Christmas and New Year programme can quickly change the complexion of the table. There are plenty of points up for grabs during this period so expect plenty of twists and turns. Only 12 points separate the top 10 sides.

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Look at Derby County, who are absolutely flying following a slow start to the campaign. Since returning to the iPro Stadium, Steve McClaren has transformed the Rams’ fortunes, leading them to five straight wins. Their controversial victory over the Owls kicked off the team’s fine run of form.

All clubs will be seeking a healthy quota of points over December and January as they know it could hold the key to securing a top-six berth.

As for the Owls, results and performances have markedly improved since the last international break and confidence is growing. They have momentum but we are going to learn a lot about the club’s promotion credentials in the next three fixtures.

Next up is the clash at Reading, who have arguably been the surprise package of the season under Jaap Stam. The team’s possession-based approach will test Wednesday’s patience and discipline.

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It will be a tough assignment, which has perhaps been made even harder for the Owls by the fact that the Royals were trounced 5-0 by Fulham last weekend. Stam’s team will be looking to make amends and prove their Craven Cottage debacle was just an off day.

After their visit to the Madejski Stadium, a Yorkshire derby double-header looms for Wednesday. Owls fans and football commentators will be expecting the team to beat South Yorkshire neighbours Barnsley and Rotherham United, but Carlos Carvalhal’s men can ill-afford to take either of them for granted. Wednesday slipped up at home to the Millers last time around following a tactical masterclass by Neil Warnock. Any complacency or dropping of standards will be punished.

Wednesday will take on Reading, Barnsley and Rotherham without their talismanic forward Fernando Forestieri. When the influential 26-year-old missed matches through suspension last year, the Owls failed to defeat Queens Park Rangers, Rotherham and Brighton. Had he been available for selection, Forestieri could have made the difference. Ultimately, we will never know.

But it will be fascinating to see how Wednesday cope without their main man. Who will step up and fill Forestieri’s big shoes?