Going back in time and looking through the annals of the Jumpers for Goalposts articles rarely bodes well for me. I mean, you’re reading the wise words of a guy who said that there was no way possible for Manchester City to win the Premier League after defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates. Of course, Manchester United uncharacteristically choked at the final hurdle and Manchester City won the title on goal difference. I also said that Robin van Persie wouldn’t join another Premier League team and that Juventus would be he his destination. Wrong again, Craig.
Hey, at least I’m totally honest about my shortcomings when it comes to making predictions.
Sometimes however, I call things correctly. Having watched Sheffield Wednesday match West Bromwich Albion in a pre-season friendly at Hillsborough, I believed there to be much cause for optimism. Dave Jones had moulded his side into a compact unit, who were tactically disciplined, technically sound and held their own against a team who have surprised everybody in the Premier League this season. Pre-season friendly it may have been, but those were amongst the last matches for both sides as they prepared for competitive football once more and thus it was a match that was important for both sides.
On the day, Sheffield Wednesday created more chances than West Brom and should have won. Although I was pleased with how Wednesday conducted themselves tactically, they weren’t clinical enough going forward. Looking at the squad that evening as I typed up my post, I realised that Chris Maguire, Gary Madine and Chris O’Grady wouldn’t be enough throughout the campaign. My final line from the article to which I’m referring, read as, “Saturday’s performance against Premiership opposition drew many positives, but a famine of striking options could prove fateful as the season progresses.”
A need for strikers, in defence of Dave Jones, has been recognised throughout the season. Loan signings of Rodri, Jay Bothroyd, Marlon Harewood, Leroy Lita, Mamady Sidibe and Steve Howard respectively, were all made at various points of the season to patch up a threadbare strikeforce. The three strikers who started the season were clearly not up to Championship standard, as shown by Madine’s goal return of three in thirty league matches and Maguire’s haul of one goal in ten. In total, Sheffield Wednesday scored 53 goals over the season and ultimately, that’s why they finished in 18th. What got them there however, after a promising start to the season, could have been avoided.
Of the teams from 21st to 7th in the Championship, Sheffield Wednesday are joint fourth with Ipswich Town and Bolton Wanderers (who missed out on the play-offs by goal difference) when it comes to goals conceded and that is a direct result of a defence that was largely settled for most of the season. Anthony Gardner, Lewis Buxton, Jeremy Helan and Miguel Llera formed the basis of a good defence and the consistency in their selection helped greatly. If anybody should get praise at Hillsborough for this season, then it is that back four, along with Chris Kirkland in net.
In front of the back four is where Wednesday have been affected this season. Constant change to the striking department and midfield area meant the first XI was constantly disrupted by players coming in and out of the team. A staggering eleven loan signings throughout the course of the season and twelve permanent signings made in the summer, meant that Wednesday lost a lot of their identity from the side that actually got promotion from League One to the Championship. Constant rotation and Dave Jones’ relentless use of the loan market meant for a turbulent few months as Wednesday went on a seven-game losing streak in November and December, before going on an unbeaten run of four matches (winning three).
It was after December when Wednesday started to find their identity again counting results from January 1st to the final day of the season, Sheffield Wednesday took 33 points from 63 that were available. In contrast, Wednesday took 25 points from the 75 that were available from the start of the season to the last match in 2012. That’s a good improvement and shows how much Wednesday improved after Christmas and it can be said that after that rocky first few months, Wednesday found their identity again. That period of seven defeats from November to December really hurt Wednesday and I put those down to Dave Jones disrupting his team to such an extent that at one point, the starting XI was unrecognisable from the team that got promotion.
As the season wore on, we’ve seen from the points Wednesday collected that they improved and I attribute that to the team beginning to mould and form partnerships between certain players. On paper, I look at Sheffield Wednesday and think that they should have finished in a higher position than 18th. The team is much more talented than that and I’ve said throughout the season that if found their feet, they would cause trouble and in the fixture against Birmingham City earlier this season, which Wednesday won 3-2, I said they could be a surprise package.
With astute “tweaking” in the summer, Sheffield Wednesday can take the form from the back end of this season and turn it into a big positive for the, 2013/14 campaign. Dave Jones needs to do his business early, have a good pre-season getting the new additions to know their new team-mates, scrap deadwood such as Madine, Maguire and Joey Mattock, to name but a few. I said in my West Brom match review that strikers would be the difference at Hillsborough and I’ve been proved right. Despite much activity in the loan market, that problem has not been corrected, with the exception of Leroy Lita who made a positive impact.
So, after the success of my last prediction on Sheffield Wednesday, I bring you my latest one. If Dave Jones can keep the spine of this team together, add carefully, particularly in attack, then Sheffield Wednesday will finish in the top half next season. Three more points to their final total of 58 and Wednesday would have been level on points with Derby County in 10th.
The margins of success and failure in the Championship are wafer thin. Wednesday finished four points off relegation and were four off a top half finish. The difference is the acquisition of a good striker and Jones has to make his move early for that elusive “good striker.”