Monday 4 May 2015

Sheffield Wednesday: 2014-15 season in review

On the pitch 

There's been few seasons which have not ended in shredded nerves over the last decade, but this was one such. In fact, not since the 2007-08 Championship campaign have the Owls truly not challenged for promotion or fought to stave off relegation in the closing weeks. However, head coach Stuart Gray will be pleased to have seemingly consolidated the Owls' position in the second tier and shown signs they can challenge wealthier rivals, albeit falling away after early promise amongst the play-off contenders. This season's iteration of the Blue and White Wizards have been far more defensively resolute than previous incarnations, thanks largely to super-keeper Keiren Westwood and it will be intriguing to see if Gray continues to focus on a mean defence (the Owls finished 13th with -6 goal difference, above Forest who had +2). 

The owner
Sheffield expects. When Dejphon Chansiri bought the club in January, the expectation that the Thai seafood tycoon, inspired to take an interest in football by his son, would splash the cash was clear. With the first full transfer window under his stewardship opening in July, the trio at the top of the club - Gray and new recruits and Glenn Roeder and Adam Pearson - will be looking to strengthen. A relatively light-weight midfield and an inconsistent attack will doubtless be at the top of their list of problems. For Chansiri, this will be the first test of how willing he is to put money where his mouth is to achieve his bold target of bringing Premier League football back to S6 by 2017.

The manager
A mid-season fan campaign to force Stuart Gray out of a job after a cluster of lacklustre performances, not least at home, could easily have succeeded. With a new owner in, the man in the blue sportswear looked fairly likely to be shown the door. However, with Roeder and Pearson alongside him, there appears to be a recognition that Gray is a good man manager and a move to a more collegiate recruitment approach - with Chansiri's cash behind them - could well prove a canny move. I have my doubts about Roeder, given his patchy management record, but contacts in the upper echelons of the game are vital for Championship teams to nab nifty loan deals.

The players
Gray would have hoped to have named a more settled team through the season than he was able to. A combination of injury and form meant chopping and changing was the order of the season. A strong defence has been undermined by a midfield - with the exception of fan favourite Keiran Lee - that has lacked resolved, whether from the inconsistent Lewis McGugan or Jacques Maghoma, who needs to rediscover his finishing after bagging 26 goals in his four-year stint at Burton Albion. Up top, Stevie May has failed to delight. His record in Scotland made him an attractive signing, and his industry is an asset, but what looked at first like bad luck has spiralled into a host of missed chances. The £800,000 signing needs to be replaced with proven Championship quality. Alongside him Atdhe Nuhiu has probably done enough - not least through his dramatic party-pooping equaliser at Watford - to retain a starting position, although his lack of pace is a continual frustration and leaves Wednesday lacking when compared to the strike forces of Blackburn, Ipswich and Brentford this season. 

Player of the season
No contest. Westwood's form - which landed him in the Championship Team of the Year - will doubtless have caught the eye of bigger fish. If the Owls can hang on to the Irishman, and keep Chris Kirkland happy as understudy, then the defensive solidity his wonder stops have provided will prove the bedrock for development. The magnitude of those saves - worth around 15 points no doubt - cannot be underestimated. 

Moment of the season 
The turnaround at Rotherham, in which Wednesday turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 win with the help of Lee, ranks among the great last gasp wins thanks to an enormous seven minutes injury time. Nuhiu's sharp finish at the Etihad in the FA Cup defeat to Manchester City comes a close second. 

New teams in prospect

With a new season, will come some interesting away games. Sunderland or Aston Villa could potentially fall out of the Premier League, so a trip to the Stadium of Light or Villa Park could provide tasty fixtures, as well as QPR and Burnley who could make swift returns to the division. At the other end, a return to Bristol City's Ashton Gate will provide Owls fans with happy memories of numerous victories although MK Dons' soulless Stadium MK is a less appealing prospect. Naturally, the Blades play-off challenge will be watched keenly by their neighbours and a Steel City derby for the first time since 2011-12 could be on the cards.