Preview: Sheffield Wednesday vs. Southampton

Preview: Sheffield Wednesday vs. Southampton

The 2023-24 Championship season will begin at Hillsborough on Friday, as newly-promoted Sheffield Wednesday welcome relegated Southampton.

Both sides head into the term under new management, with Xisco Munoz and Russell Martin set to take charge of their first competitive games as Owls and Saints bosses respectively in the curtain-raiser.

Sheffield Wednesday will make their return to the Championship on Friday after successfully putting an end to a two-year stay in League One in dramatic fashion last term, having eventually finished third in England’s third tier, just missing out on automatic promotion despite earning an eye-catching tally of 96 points from their 46 outings under Darren Moore.

They then met Peterborough United in the playoffs, and after a 4-0 defeat away from home, the Owls pulled off a historic comeback at Hillsborough as Michael Smith, Lee Gregory, Reece James and Liam Palmer scored in normal time to level the aggregate score, before Callum Paterson again equalised in extra time, forcing a penalty shootout which the Owls prevailed in to book a trip to Wembley against local rivals Barnsley.

That contest remained goalless throughout the 90 minutes and looked set to go to another shootout in the capital, but Josh Windass would eventually head in the decisive goal in the 123rd minute to seal his side’s climb back to England’s second tier, although it has not been smooth sailing for the Owls since that triumph.

Moore would depart by mutual consent in mid-June, and Xisco Munoz was then tasked with leading the South Yorkshire outfit into the new term, starting pre-season with a draw against York City and a victory over Chesterfield, before suffering defeats to Burnley, Eldense, Doncaster Rovers alongside a draw with Real Murcia and finishing their preparations with a narrow 2-1 loss at home to Premier League-bound Luton Town last Saturday, as Michael Smith’s opener from the penalty spot was followed by goals from Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Carlton Morris for the visitors.

With their pre-season campaign now complete, the Owls will be keen to mark their return to the Championship with a positive result in front of their home crowd on Friday.

They face a tough test, though, as the visitors also arrive under new management hoping to make a mark in the second tier, after the relegation from the Premier League last season.

In their 11th consecutive campaign in England’s top flight, the Saints were unable to avoid the drop, with long-serving manager Ralph Hasenhuttl departing in November, before his replacement Nathan Jones lasted for just eight league outings, winning just three points along the way between mid-November and mid-February.

Ruben Selles would then step up to lead the Saints for the remainder of the season, and they were condemned to relegation and finished at the foot of the table with just 25 points on the board, as they went winless for the last 12 outings while only managing four draws, including a dramatic final-day meeting with Liverpool which ended 4-4 at St Mary’s.

Over the summer and ahead of their bid to return to the top flight, Southampton turned to Russell Martin over the summer, and his tenure began in pre-season with a defeat to Benfica, a draw with Goztepe and a victory over Reading, before finishing their preparations at home to Bournemouth and AZ Alkmaar and suffering 3-2 and 1-0 defeats respectively.

Now with their focus fully on Friday’s curtain-raiser, Southampton will look to kick off their season with a three-point haul on their travels on Friday in their bid to establish themselves in the leading pack from the outset.

Sheffield Wednesday form (all competitions):

Southampton form (all competitions):

We say: Sheffield Wednesday 1-2 Southampton
Friday’s curtain-raiser at Hillsborough promises to be an intriguing encounter, given the seasons the two sides had last time around. Due to the unrest at Sheffield Wednesday, and with the visitors’ superior quality, even with the anticipated departures, we envisage Russell Martin kicking off as Saints manager with a narrow hard-fought victory.

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