Sunday 5 May 2013

Sheffield Wednesday 2012-13 in review: Lessons we've learnt

Sheffield Wednesday confirmed their safety in the Championship yesterday with a comfortable -0 win over Middlesborough at Hillsborough. It was a surprisingly calm end to a dramatic season which saw the Owls burst out of the block before getting dragged into the relegation mire. Owls fan Alex Lawson looks at what the season taught us. 

Dave Jones can wheel, deal and drill 

After winning promotion in 2011-12, Owls boss Dave Jones made 14 summer signings and let some Owls favourites go. Defensive rock Rob Jones followed local boy and Owls left back Tommy Spurr to Doncaster, eventually winning promotion for the second season running. However, Nejc Pe─Źnik , Rodri, Ryan Lowe and Diago Amado were among those brought in, although the latter left before the season even began after struggling to settle in in S6. The team appeared well drilled and raring to go in winning four games out of five in August including a defeat of Premier League Fulham in the Capital One Cup. 

There's a fight on for the number 1 jersey 
One of the summer's big questions had been who would start the season between the posts at Hillsborough. Stephen Bywater signed a one year deal after extensive negotiations, Owls fan Nicky Weaver remains at the club and academy product Aaron Jameson is also on the books. However the signing of former Wigan, Liverpool and England U21 keeper Chris Kirkland added steel to the defense. Kirkland has added authority to his game in recent years and scooping the 2013 Player of the Year award is justified in a season which featured 12 clean sheets behind a back line of  Miguel Llera and Anthony Gardner. Kirkland was also to feature in the season's highest profile moment when Leeds fan Aaron Crawley ran on to the pitch and hit him.

Milan Mandaric does possess some patience
A winless September followed by just two wins in October and November had Owls fans pondering whether Dave Jones was the right man for the job approaching the turn of the year. The feeling that Serbian chairman Milan Mandaric, who has a reputation for sacking managers quicker than you can eat and Eccles cake, would pull the plug on Jones was inevitable. The previous season he had sacked former Owls player and manager Gary Megson despite winning the Steel City Derby that week to install Jones. But Mandoric kept is faith in the Scouser which was eventually rewarded. 

Dave Jones hates the Championship
The Owls boss frequently expressed his hatred of the unpredictable division which has confounded followers this season. The Owls eventual finish in 18th on 58 points was just 10 points behind Leicester City who made the play-offs. Perhaps more tellingly, all three teams relegated would have stayed up the previous season. The feeling that any team could beat any other was confirmed and English football's most exciting division offered up a relentlessly entertaining second half to the season. Who can blame Jones' frustration at the league?

The forward line remains in doubt
The Owls have tested a number of partnerships up front this season and none have convinced. Dave Jones has burned through strikers unable to find a talisman. This is reflected by the season's goalscoring stats which left star midfielder Michael Antonio the winner of a golden boat which is probably a bit scuffed with the laces undone on nine goals ahead of winger/striker Jermaine Johnson on seven goals and defender Reda Johnson on six. With a loaned and travelled strike force of Leroy Lita and Steve Howard notching the all-important last day of the season goals, there remains a feeling the future has not been planned for. Chris Maguire was signed on a three year deal from Derby while Rodri came from Barcelona B but neither were given a great deal of opportunity or showed signs they could lead the line. Ryan Lowe and Chris O'Grady looked more effective but Jones sent the latter on loan to Barnsley in a bizarre move which almost cost him dear, with O'Grady scoring on the final day. Meanwhile, Blackburn who finished on the same points and one goal better, possess Jordan Rhodes who hit the net 28 times this season.

Anything Newcastle fans can do, we can do better
The Owls fans dressed up in Portuguese flags to celebrate midfield dynamo Jose Semedo for the trip to the City Ground. Although the support and singing for the tackling midfielder couldn't prevent Llera scoring an own goal in a 1-0 defeat it showed the power of social media in organising #semedoday and that if the Geordies can go French we can bring a Mediterranean feel to S6. 

Jones' private life will continue to be a feature
Taunts over the unproven allegations of child abuse continue to emanate from the Leppings Lane end every other Saturday to David Jones. The 56-year-old appears used to the chants however, they continue to be disgusting, if predictable part of supporting Wednesday. Jones himself was visible affected by chants from Leeds fans earlier this season. However, further claims made by The Sun over an extramarital affair with 30-year old netball player Sara-Louise Hale in March again dragged off-the-pitch affairs into the spotlight. 

More is to come on the HIllsborough disaster
The findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel that lives could have been saved in September thrust S6 back into the spotlight and confirmed that it would remain so for some time. Owls fans have long been in an awkward position over the events on April15, 1989 in our ground policed by South Yorkshire Police. The club apologised to dead fans' families and the inquests into those who died after 3.15pm will be carefully watched by all involved with SWFC this year.

Crunch days are inevitable
The Owls have left their fate for the following season to the final day in three of the last four seasons, triumphing twice. The crunch matches, which have each drawn huge attendances over 30,000, have displayed both the fantastic support and unpredictable nature of one of the country's biggest clubs. If next season is to avoid going to the wire to stay up again, Jones will need to organise a settle side, decide on his best forwards and bring a winning mentality to Hillsborough.

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