Since I last wrote a blog the fortunes of Sheffield Wednesday have changed quite significantly; for the better. Even taking into account a 3-0 defeat at home to Wigan, which somewhat flattered them, we can be happy with our current situation. We have created a gap between ourselves and the bottom three. Whilst there is still work to do, I am now more than confident we will secure another season of Championship football.
First and foremost we must praise the man who has led the turn around. I don’t think there were many people who would have picked Stuart Gray as our next permanent ‘Head Coach’ following Dave Jones’ dismissal. I’d go as far as to say more than a few didn’t want him at all. I’m not keen on people now slating Jones for things he said and did as our manager. He’s in the past now, we don’t have to look back and think I told you so.
It’s interesting when you look at the difference Gray has made to the team. We’ve seen a change in the style of football we play. There is definitely more intricate passing and keeping the ball on the ground. Chris Maguire returned from a loan spell and is finally fulfilling his potential. He’s scoring goals and producing good performances. He has proven to be a key player in our recent good run. Being brought in from the wilderness he seems re-invigorated and his confidence is there for all to see. His injury time winner against Barnsley was testament to how he has worked hard and taken his chance. I sincerely hope he pushes on from here, as he is clearly a talented footballer.
Liam Palmer is playing consistently well and has made the right back birth his own. Personally, I think he has got to grips with physical side of the game as the season has progressed. Lewis Buxton will have a tough task to regain his place in the team. It’s a blow to lose Jose Semedo to injury as he has been playing the way he did in our League One promotion campaign. It finally seems he has found his feet at this level.
The defence has looked better, despite numerous changes of personnel at the back. It’s worth mentioning Joe Mattock too, another player who has played very little football since joining the club however he has recently shown his worth. If we can get a settled partnership at the heart of the defence it will only serve to improve us further.
The biggest change for me is the confidence the players have. Granted the wins have fuelled this, but the turnaround from before Christmas has been dramatic. Beating Leeds 6-0 also helped!
We now have a break from the rigours of Championship football and entertain Charlton in the FA Cup. It’s a very winnable game; Charlton will feel that way too. The winners of this tie will be rubbing their hands, and will be one game away from Wembley. With one other Football League team guaranteed a place in the final eight, possibly our cross-city rivals, and the Premier league top four facing each other, this is our best chance yet of making our first visit to the national stadium.
We’ve had a while in the doldrums and outside the elite of English football. Since relegation in 2000 we haven’t faced any of England’s top clubs. We played Manchester City in 2006 but that was a very different prospect to the team they have today. Even if Wembley isn’t to be, playing against Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool would certainly be welcomed
Some people say the semi-finals shouldn’t be at Wembley. If you go regularly you may feel that way, but for me and the rest of our support, we dream of heading under the arch for the first time. We would sell our allocation without question and offer a nice reminder that there is life outside the Premier League. The magic of the cup will always exist. It may not be as prominent as in the past, but in certain circumstances it will come to the fore.
Before any of that, there’s the small matter of Charlton. An expectant Hillsborough will need to remember that they are on a par with us and will be equally motivated to advance. We will need to get behind the team and hope they can keep the Wembley dream alive.
It’s a long time since we had some national recognition in a cup competition. 2014 could see that happen
Written by Carl Mullooly, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield Wednesday blogger
Carl tweets at @MulOwl