Goal-scorers win you matches. Goalkeepers and defenders win you championships.
A couple of months after boarding the ‘Bladesacoaster’, Nigel Adkins gave this rather blunt assertion when asked what is required to turn clubs from pretenders into contenders.
In the early part of this season, Sheffield Wednesday’s defending as a unit left a lot to be desired and there was plenty of room for improvement.
Not so now.
Head coach Carlos Carvalhal received criticism, in some quarters, for constantly rotating his squad in the opening two months of the campaign. But the Portuguese has learned from his mistakes and appears to have settled on his best four four.
Pushing for the top spot is probably out of Wednesday’s reach, but they have shored things up defensively and recorded a fourth clean sheet in their last five outings at home to joint Championship leaders Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday.
Tom Lees, the Owls’ only ever present, told The Star: “I’m very happy as we weren’t keeping as many clean sheets as we would like at the start of the season. We were never pumped but we were letting in goals.
“Now we are consistently keeping clean sheets. I am really pleased for the captain coming back in.
“Michael [Turner] came in and played well but it was maybe harsh on Glenn [Loovens] to not be playing. He has been doing fantastic and I think his form is one of the reasons why we have kept clean sheets.
“Glenn is so calm, solid and consistent. When you need to call on him, he is usually there. But we are all working hard in the back five.
“The midfield are playing a vital role in protecting us. We have got some good protection. It is nice that we look hard to beat because we have goals going forward.”
In 36 matches together, Lees and Loovens have flourished, helping Owls keep 17 shut-outs. Lee admits he enjoys playing alongside the experienced Dutchman.
“It’s weird; it (the partnership) just clicks,” he said. “Glenn is a good talker and great positionally but I wouldn’t say there is any real secret.
“We just read each other’s games quite well and help the the boys either side of us.”
Lees claimed Wednesday more than matched Brighton, proving they can compete with the best sides in the league.
“The standard is definitely higher this year,” he said. “When the season started, you were struggling to pick teams who you thought would go down.
“Normally by now you have one or two teams who are running away with it whereas now there is probably a cluster of eight or 10.
“There are a lot of good teams who have been in the Premier League lately and sides who are carrying big squads. Hull’s squad, when we played them, was frightening. They were all internationals and played in the Premier League. Derby and Middlesbrough have also got good squads but we have options too.
“We signed Gary Hooper last week and he’s hardly featured yet. We have got strength and we may add to that in January depending on where we are in the league.”
The defender has also praised the job boss Carlos Carvalhal has done.
“As someone who has played in the Championship quite a long time, I just hoped that when Carlos came in he would accept some of the English ways,” he said. “Some managers are too proud and try to play a total way and don’t accept other aspects of the game but I think Carlos has been really good in the way he has embraced it and kept a lot of English players.
“He knows and is not naive enough to think he can tip tap his way through the Championship so that’s good.”