The Blues beat Rotherham and the Owls saw off Exeter in the third round, with the winner of this tie hosting Wycombe or Tottenham in the next stage.
Wednesday, 23rd in the Championship, started the season with a 12-point deduction which was later halved, and have already sacked two managers in Garry Monk and Tony Pulis.
Since Pulis’ departure on December 28, they have won all three of their matches under caretaker boss Neil Thompson, but have not played since January 9 due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
RBM: Firstly, it’s clearly been a difficult few weeks for Wednesday. For those less aware of the severity of their COVID-19 outbreak, just how badly has it affected the club?
Nancy: It’s been a bit of a nightmare for Wednesday in all honesty but the players and staff have handled the challenge well. Most of the first team coaching staff, including caretaker manager Neil Thompson and coaches Lee Bullen, Nicky Weaver and Steve Haslam, all tested positive and the training ground was closed for about ten days after the outbreak.
Wednesday have had two league games postponed because of the number of players that had either tested positive or have been self-isolating - their last match was against Exeter in the last round of the FA Cup. Even in that game, they could only name three outfield players on the bench and all of those were made up from the under-23s, and the team was managed by under-18 coach Andy Holdsworth.
RBM: Wednesday had endured an arduous season already, with a points deduction and two managers sacked. It doesn’t feel that long ago that they were promotion contenders; what’s gone wrong?
Nancy: The last 12 months have been rough to say the least for Wednesday. People will remember the run to the play-off final a few years back under Carlos Carvalhal but as recently as December 2019, Wednesday were third in the table under Garry Monk and looked to be on the right track for a promotion push again.
A number of things have scuppered Wednesday’s hopes of promotion - an ageing squad, large numbers of out-of-contract players in the last two seasons, and an unhelpful managerial turnover.
Added to that have been the struggles to meet Financial Fair Play rules, which led to the points deduction, and it’s become a frustrating picture for Wednesday fans, who have seen their team slide down the table in the last five years.
RBM: From the outside, there seems to be friction between Wednesday fans and the club’s owners. What do you sense the current mood is among most supporters, both to the hierarchy and the club as a whole?
Nancy: There’s a lot of anger but also a lot of apathy, which can be dangerous in football. Fans are unhappy with the way that off-field problems have affected the team, plus the football itself has been far from inspiring lately.
Not being able to go to games certainly seems to have led to more fans feeling disengaged, especially as they feel their concerns are ignored by the club hierarchy.
RBM: Wednesday would be three spots higher and above the drop zone without their six-point deduction. Are they in a slightly false place, or have they been as bad as their position would suggest?
Nancy: Results and performances just haven’t been good enough and I think if the Championship was of a higher standard this season then Wednesday would have been in real trouble a long time ago.
The picture is already bleak and while there has been an upturn in form lately, there’s a long way to go if Wednesday are to avoid the drop to League One. So they’re probably where they deserve to be.
RBM: It seemed surprising that Wednesday sacked Tony Pulis after just ten matches, but they’ve won all three games since. Have there been genuine signs of improvement under Neil Thompson, or is too soon to tell?
Nancy: The improvement is clear to see. Scoring has been a problem since Steven Fletcher left in the summer and under Pulis the side was really shackled, showing barely any attacking freedom.
Now they’re playing on the front foot and performances have been better so maybe the ‘grind out results’ approach was never suited to this side. Hopefully it won’t all change again for the worse if a new manager is appointed.
RBM: You wrote in The Athletic about some of Wednesday’s youngsters who stood out in their third round win at Exeter. Can you see them being given another chance to impress at Goodison?
Nancy: Wednesday were undoubtedly fielding a weaker squad against Exeter but you could still see some of the youngsters like Liam Shaw and Ryan Galvin in action.
Shaw has been a first team regular this season and has really impressed so I’d be intrigued to see how he fares against Premier League opposition, if given the chance.
RBM: How do you expect Wednesday to set up at Goodison?
Nancy: I think you’ll see a lot more of Wednesday’s first team players than featured against Exeter because they’ve had some time off and need to get match-sharp again.
They’re likely to line up in a 4-4-2, as that has brought success for Wednesday in recent games, probably with Callum Paterson and Josh Windass (if fit in time) leading the line.
We could see Massimo Luongo, Chey Dunkley and Keiren Westwood return from injury, as well as those who were out with illness in the last round.
RBM: Aside from their youngsters, which of Wednesday’s players do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Nancy: Barry Bannan is always a threat and pulls the strings for Wednesday in the heart of midfield. When he has an off-day, so does the rest of the team.
If you can stifle Bannan then it’ll really put a stop to any creativity from Wednesday through the middle.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?
Nancy: I’m going to say 2-0 Everton. I think they’ll just be too strong for Wednesday, who are only just returning to sharpness after a bit of a break for most of the first team players.
Our thanks to Nancy for her time.