It has been a mixed bag for Sheffield Wednesday since returning to the Championship back in 2012.
There was gradual progress, with three lower-half finishes as they continued to build before reaching the play-offs in two successive seasons – losing out to Hull City in the 2016 final and suffering a semi-final defeat against Huddersfield Town the following year.
The Owls are looking to put those disappointments firmly behind them and, after recording a top half placing in the 2018/19 campaign, they will be looking to pick up where they left off last term under Steve Bruce.
Wednesday embarked on an 11-game unbeaten run when the former Aston Villa manager arrived at Hillsborough in February and climbed from 16th to 11th in the space of two months.
Prior to that, our South Yorkshire rivals had been on a downwards trajectory and had dispensed of Jos Luhukay after less than a year in charge. The Dutchman’s record, while not overwhelming, wasn’t terrible, but he was unable to get the best out of a talented squad that includes the likes of Adam Reach, Stephen Fletcher and Lucas João.
Disappointing defeats and disjointed performances against Queens Park Rangers, Blackburn Rovers and Swansea City perhaps played a large part in his departure from Hillsborough before Christmas, as Wednesday turned to assistant Lee Bullen on a caretaker basis.
From 2 January, Steve Agnew and Stephen Clemence took over the reins – again, on a caretaker basis, as the Owls search for the prime successor extended into a second month. There had, however, been an upturn in results, with Wednesday recording three wins and two draws in six Championship games before Bruce was appointed.
At the end of March, following a 0-0 stalemate at Stoke City, the South Yorkshire outfit were just three points outside the play-offs, with Aston Villa up next at Hillsborough. Dean Smith’s side were one of the form teams in the division, having won their previous five games.
Despite taking an early lead through Gary Hooper, the Owls were unable to secure all three points. John McGinn levelled for the visitors before Fletcher failed to convert from the spot and, with the clock ticking down, Albert Adomah and Tammy Abraham scored in injury time to snatch victory for Villa.
Wednesday finished the campaign two wins, two draws and two defeats, but there will certainly be reason to be optimistic ahead of the 2019/20 season.
In Bruce, they have a manager who has won promotion from the second tier on four occasions; twice each with Birmingham City and Hull. The former Manchester United defender is a natural winner, which will transcend to his players on the pitch.
This could prove to be a defining nine months for the Owls, who will be hoping to reach the Premier League for the first time since 1999.
Barnsley haven’t won any of the last 10 meetings with Wednesday, but have drawn the last three encounters. Our last triumph came in February 2009 as Jamal Campbell-Ryce scored the solitary goal at Hillsborough.