Sheffield Wednesday must persist with Lucas Joao against MK Dons

The Portuguese hitman hasn't scored in his last eight matches for Sheffield Wednesday, but there are mitigating circumstances.

Sheffield Wednesday have so far handled Lucas Joao like you would a take-away coffee without its sleeve - very bloody carefully.

The Portuguese striker has featured 42 times in his first season in England, but less than half of his appearances have come from the start.

An extended bedding-in process - after all, this was a player who'd recorded fewer than 50 appearances at any sort of respectable level before his move - worked for both parties initially. Wednesday were often level or behind by the time Joao was introduced from the bench, but the 22-year-old found an endearing knack of changing games in his side's favour.

Six of his eight goals this season came during an 11-game purple patch last autumn, of which he started just four.

But the arrival - and crucially, the hitting of form - of Gary Hooper have seen Joao's chances significantly reduced since then.

With so much expectation surrounding him - he's since won caps for Portugal don't forget - and English football's rigorous Saturday-Tuesday schedule, Joao's impressive run was always unlikely to last the distance. And so it transpired.

It took him 13 games, spread across three months, to find the net again - against Brentford in February. His current goalless run stands at eight matches.

The last of those, a 1-1 draw with Ipswich on Saturday, brought only Joao's third league start this year and a bit of rust was both inevitable and understandable.

The ensuing criticism he faced was unfair. How can you expect consistent, competent performances from a player who's been used so infrequently? Not least one who's 22 and experiencing his first season in a foreign country.

Wednesday head coach Carlos Carvalhal defended the striker in Monday's pre-MK Dons press conference, and insisted he'd matured since becoming a father earlier in the campaign.

With Tuesday's Hillsborough opponents meandering down death row and Hooper still recovering from a knock, there will be few better opportunities for Joao to showcase that between now and a likely play-off campaign for which Wednesday need everyone firing.

Not since mid-December has the Owls' number 18 recorded back-to-back starts in the Championship. Now's time to put that right.

Both parties should see the benefits.

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