Sheffield Wednesday: Owls aim to keep Rovers’ deadly duo quiet

Blackburn Rovers' Jordan Rhodes.
Blackburn Rovers' Jordan Rhodes.

The game plan is clear.

Whether Sheffield Wednesday will be able to execute it or not at Ewood Park is another matter.

Owls head coach Stuart Gray claims Blackburn Rovers have the best strike pair in the Championship in Jordan Rhodes and Rudy Gestede. Given the pair’s goal-scoring exploits, it is no surprise Gray is focusing on nullifying their service ahead of tomorrow’s encounter.

Rovers top-scorer Gestede bagged a controversial injury-time goal to earn Rovers a 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough last weekend, a result which stretched their unbeaten run to nine matches and moved them to within four points of top spot. It was Gestede’s 11th goal in 18 appearances, including six in his last six outings.

Rhodes, the son of Owls goalkeeping coach Andy, has not scored as freely as he would have liked this campaign but still netted seven times in 18 appearances.

Gray, who will take charge of his 50th Championship match against Rovers, told The Star: “Blackburn have got two forwards who have been in the goals. We have to stop their supply.

“They [Rhodes and Gestede] probably are the best front two in the league. I think Blackburn play to their strengths. They get the ball forward early to Gestede and Rhodes comes alive in the box. If we can keep them out of the box, hopefully we can keep them quiet. If we defend like we did from the front against Wigan, hopefully that will stop the supply to them.”

Gray has also warned his defence to keep a close eye on former Wednesday loanee Ben Marshall.

“Ben [Marshall] is playing out of his skin at the moment,” said Gray, who worked with the winger at Northampton Town. “He’s playing very well so we have to keep him quiet.”

Blackburn have not lost in their own backyard since mid-September, losing a five goal thriller with table-topping Derby County.

Gray said: “Blackburn are on a nine-match unbeaten run. I watched the highlights of the Boro game. It just shows if you keep going right to the end anything is possible. It might have been a foul on the Boro keeper but they got the decision.

“Blackburn are nice and solid, play two banks of four and two lads who are scoring goals up front that can cause you problems.

“You are going to win games of football if you have that at this level, as Burnley showed last season.”

Wednesday have collected 14 points from their nine fixtures on the road this term.

Gray added: “We are performing well on our travels. We don’t fear anybody.”

Although the Owls boast one of the best defensive records in the division, Gray was unhappy they conceded a goal from a dead ball situation against Wigan Athletic last weekend.

He said: “It was a bit of a shock to the system conceding a goal from a set play because we have been solid on that front. We have to make sure we don’t do that again.”

The Wednesday chief is looking forward to their Christmas programme. They play five matches before the end of the year, three of which are away from home.

“People often say when you get to the Christmas period that the league table tells you where you are going to be whether you are in touching distance of the play-offs,” he said. “I think it’s good spell for us. We are going to be playing teams who are in and around us.

“It was pleasing to get a win last week against a good Wigan side. Now we’ve got to build on that.”

Rovers boss Gary Bowyer faces a tough selection poser in between the sticks. Simon Eastwood delivered a man of the match performance against Boro but Jason Steele is available for selection again, having been ineligible to face his parent club.

Bowyer said: “It’s up to us to continue with the spirit and character we have shown but also improve on some of the performances we’ve put out recently. We feel as a group we can be better with the ball and that’s not to take away from the character.

“We know Sheffield Wednesday won’t stop for 90-odd minutes – the same as us – and we’ve got to be better on the ball and impose ourselves on them and get the first goal for a change. And then really strive to kick on from that. It’s something that we’ve spoken about with the players and it’s case of being on the front foot and try and get the first goal.

“Wednesday haven’t conceded many goals and Stuart has got them well drilled. They do pose a threat going forward, they’ve got some pace in wide areas, and they’ve got a big targetman like ourselves. We’re fully aware of the challenge but it’s about us raising the standards of our performances and putting demands on the players to go up another level.”