Sheffield Wednesday’s summer swoop on neighbours Rotherham United will improve the team in both boxes, according to Hillsborough chief Darren Moore. The Owls pounced this week to recruit out-of-contract Millers pair Michael Smith and Michael Ihiekwe on free transfers.
It was a significant blow for Rotherham with both players key performers as Paul Warne’s men secured promotion back to the Championship after finishing last term as League One runners-up. Smith plundered 25 goals in all competitions during the 30-year-old’s highest-scoring campaign of his career.
Centre-back Ihiekwe, meanwhile, with 42 appearances, was the mainstay of a defence that conceded 33 league goals – 11 fewer than any other side in the division. It is difficult to dispute Moore’s assertion, therefore, made during an interview on the club’s official website, that both will improve Wednesday’s fortunes at either end of the pitch.
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The Owls’ goals-conceded record was the sixth-best in League One last term, having shipped 17 more than their South Yorkshire neighbours. Smith’s haul was eight more, meanwhile, than the tally of Wednesday top-scorer Lee Gregory, albeit the latter did smash in nine goals during his last 10 outings of the campaign.
Other than Gregory, though, no other player hit double figures with midfielder Barry Bannan contributing nine in all competitions – a number matched by released striker Saido Berahino. Smith also scored in February’s 2-0 win at Hillsborough, whilst Ihiekwe was keeping the door shut at the other end of the pitch and, on the difference the duo can make to his team, Moore said: “For me they will bring a wealth of experience and a wealth of leadership.
“One will bring goal prowess and a better ability to help you win games and the other will bring a solidity to your backline. We have strengthened both boxes in terms of ability, size and presence.
“It does what it says on the tin if you look at their playing records over recent seasons, the stats speak for themselves. They have a robustness and fitness to their game which is exceptional.”
With the Millers duo adding to a summer recruitment drive that has also seen Ben Heneghan, David Stockdale and Will Vaulks arrive in S6, the age range of the five signings is 28 to 36. Keeper Stockdale (36) is the eldest with Smith (30) next, followed by Ihiekwe (29) and then 28-year-old pair Heneghan and Vaulks.
Experience is very much a watchword for Moore this close season and, on the deals for Heneghan, Stockdale and Vaulks, he added: “They bring good experience again, which is important. I think Ben will be an excellent signing for us, I really do.
“Ben is someone I have known for two or three years now and when I heard of his availability I wanted to bring him in straight away. With the centre-back situation and the players who left at the end of last season, we knew it was an area that needed addressing and Ben is a great acquisition.
“With David, he’s been there, done that and has that knowhow. I didn’t want to go down the route of a loan goalkeeper this time, I wanted our own player and I’m delighted we’ve managed to do that.
“With Will, once we knew he was available, we fought off interest from other clubs to get him here. I’m delighted to have him in the building.
“He’s someone of good experience with the right character and the right ilk. In terms of the dimensions and dynamics of the team, Will is an excellent addition.”
Moore is also pleased to have landed five of his targets early in the summer transfer window. “We have managed to get five over the line nice and early and now pre-season will be all about getting them settled and integrating them into the camp,” he pointed out. “The quicker you bring players in, the longer you get to work with them in preparation for the start of the season and that is a big positive.”
On his transfer market strategy, meanwhile, the 48-year-old boss declared: “We know what we want. We’re not just going for anyone and everyone.
“They are specific targets. Last season, the stats and figures were a real improvement at the club and to keep improving you have to keep getting better.
“We have looked at the dynamics of the team and some of the shortcomings and tried to correct them whilst maintaining our identity. We have only added players who tick the right boxes.”