Hillsborough club unbeaten under Dave Jones
30 August ~ Sheffield Wednesday play Crystal Palace on Saturday for the first time since the final day of the 2009-10 season. On that day at Hillsborough the visitors got a 2-2 draw that meant they avoided relegation, simultaneously consigning Wednesday to a spell in the third tier for the second time in a decade. A lot has changed for the Owls since then, both off the pitch and on it. Wednesday made a good start to their first season in League One under Alan Irvine but performances were overshadowed by winding-up orders and threats of administration.
Milan Mandaric purchased the club in November 2010 for £1, clearing the long-standing debts with the Co-op bank. "I will do everything in my power to restore Sheffield Wednesday to the top table of English football," Mandaric said on completing the takeover. The turnaround in fortunes has taken time and not been without casualties or drama. Irvine was dismissed, with little complaint from fans, in February 2011.
His replacement, Gary Megson, was somewhat more controversially dispatched a year later following a 1-0 victory over Sheffield United, which left Wednesday in third position in League One. Dave Jones was hired with one aim: promotion. it was achieved on the final day of last season, a 2-0 home win over Wycombe in front of 38,082 people confirming second place, with United finishing three points behind in third.
Summer brought the drawn-out transfer saga of Michail Antonio. The Reading loanee was so influencial in the Owls' promotion that not signing him was hardly an option for Mandaric and Jones. The combination of him and Jermaine Johnson on the wings has worked to devastating effect so far. Johnson is Wednesday's second-longest serving player. He has been one of the few players who could bring a game to life for a lot of that time but is renowned for his inconsistency. The presence of Antonio on the other wing has released some of the pressure on him to produce with every run. Both to play with freedom, frightening defences with directness and pace.
In the centre of midfield last season's stand-out player, José Semedo, provides the brick wall alongside the exciting prospect of Rhys McCabe. Signed from Rangers, McCabe is only 20 but holds on to the ball with maturity years beyond his age. Up front, Rodri was a surprise signing from Barcelona "B" and Chris O'Grady has been unexpectedly keeping last season's top scorer, Gary Madine, out of the side.
In the opening three games of the Championship Wednesday have played an exciting brand of attacking football. Though conceding twice in each game is concerning, beating both Birmingham and Millwall 3-2 at home and gaining a creditable 2-2 draw at Derby on the opening day means they go into the weekend second in the table. The strength of Wednesday's squad is also promising. On Tuesday they beat Fulham 1-0 in the League Cup, with both sides making five changes from their previous games. That win means the Owls are still unbeaten in a competitive match under Dave Jones. Including Megson's final game, the team haven't lost since February – 19 games. It equals their all-time longest unbeaten run in all competitions.
Pessimism is always lurking somewhere in the back of a football fans' mind. The team that ended their previous 19-game unbeaten run was Crystal Palace in 1983. At Selhurst Park. In the second tier. Wednesday were top at the time and, despite that 1-0 defeat, were promoted back to the top tier for the first time in 14 years. It has been 13 years since Wednesday were relegated from the Premier League. Even if they lose on Saturday, there is a belief around the club that they will bounce back. Jones has been stressing that their team is a "work in progress". There is no doubt about that but, for the first time in over a decade, Owls fans are actually have fun following their club. Tom Hocking