The dust has settled at Hillsborough and it feels a good time to reflect as we contemplate a third successive season in the Championship. I haven’t written for a while, which is probably the biggest indication of how our season fizzled out. The previous two campaigns had ended with season defining games, so it was a little different with nothing to play for at the end. An early season struggle, mid-season joy and then finishing disappointingly about sums up the past nine months with the blue half of Sheffield.
We started the season in expectant fashion and a sunny trip to London against QPR; narrowly being beaten. The season looked promising, but how wrong we were. Failure to win until November ultimately led to the dismissal of Dave Jones and another battle to avoid relegation. I was an advocate of Dave Jones, however the way football is today, if a manager doesn’t get results, it usually results in his p45. I have to say that Milan Mandaric gave Jones every opportunity and went against his reputation of being trigger happy. In my view the sacking of David Moyes by Manchester United ended any hope of managers being given time and stability at a club through difficult periods. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that short term managers are now a cultural part of the game.
Stuart Gray took the managers role on a temporary basis following Jones’s dismissal in December, and I never thought for a second he would still be in charge as permanent Head Coach at the end of the season. I didn’t even consider he was the man to lead us to safety and turn round our fortunes. He proved me and many other sceptics wrong. He brought out-casted players such as Chris Maguire back into the fold, who proceeded to score crucial goals; most notably an injury time winner from 30 yards against Barnsley in a relegation six-pointer. Players found confidence, Connor Wickham found his scoring boots whist Kieran Lee and Jose Semedo started to control games from the middle of the park. The football at times, was superb. Beating Leeds 6-0 on a sunny January day is a memory I will cherish for some time.
During that mid-season spell we gained the points we needed to stave off relegation and Stuart Gray turned our season around. Injuries to Lee and Semedo were telling factors in our season tailing off. There was a major disappointment in losing to Charlton in the 5th round of the FA Cup, when a steel city derby for a place at Wembley loomed large. We still dream of our first visit to the arch.
The less said about the end of our season the better. There were brief highlights including a dramatic fight back against Blackburn and a first ever victory at Dean Court as our ten men won 4-2 to put a major dent in their play-off aspirations. However, generally our season finished with a whimper.
The players released made interesting reading. It was the reverse of 12 months before when we seemed to offer everyone a new deal. Miguel Llera was a key part of our promotion season 2011/12 scoring crucial goals. Jermaine Johnson was our longest serving player and has given us many great memories over the years (as well as some forgettable ones!). Anthony Gardner played well when he was fit, whilst David Prutton gave us some memorable goals, but never truly established himself at the club. As sad as I was to see these players leave, I agreed with the decisions. The only released player that I question, perhaps a case of heart ruling head, is Reda Johnson. I still believe he could offer something to the team. Granted he has struggled with injury, however we are in negotiations with other injury prone players for the coming campaign. As long as he doesn’t head across town, he will always be well thought of by all linked to the club.
Looking forward to next year, if we want to be challenging at the right end of the table some things need to change. Having said I agree with the players released, it’s imperative that we bring in better quality to replace them. Our approach to recruitment of players is critical to this. Committing to signing players early would be my priority. Yes we might pay a little more in wages, but getting our targets in and together from the start of pre-season would help to get us off to the best possible start. I know this isn’t always easy, but it is possible.
Avoiding short term loans is something we need to work on. We’ve had some success in this field, but the uncertainty over the players’ future always leave nagging doubts; coupled with the fact that their parent club can recall them at any time. Short term loans should be for emergencies and to cover a short fall, not be key players that determine success and failure of the team. I’m all for the long term loans for half a season or a full season, but we need to try and have a more stable playing squad. At times this past season we had to leave loan players out of the 18 as we had too many of them. That can’t be good.
If we can get things right, bring in the right players and have a little luck with injuries, I’m confident we can build on 2 years stabilising in the Championship and start to think about a push for the play-offs!
Anyway, it’s time to have a break from domestic matters. There’s some sort event happening in Brazil this summer.
Up the Owls and come on England!
Written by Carl Mullooly, We Are Going Up’s Sheffield Wednesday blogger
Carl tweets at @MulOwl