Blackburn Rovers v Sheff Wed, 7.45pm
24 October ~ Sheffield Wednesday will travel to Blackburn Rovers tonight hoping that the headlines following the game will be about football. The Owls have been a constant presence in the news this week, after a Leeds United fan ran onto the pitch at Hillsborough on Friday and punched Chris Kirkland. There were also incidents in the stands, with both sets of supporters' chants drawing criticism and heated words from Dave Jones and Neil Warnock post-match. The fan, Aaron Cawley, has since been jailed for four months after pleading guilty to assault.
With an official FA investigation into the events ongoing and strongly worded statements still flying back and forth, it is easy to forget that the game itself was actually quite a good one. Wednesday, who went into the Yorkshire derby with just one point from their previous seven games, dominated the first half and deservedly lead 1-0 at the break.
The Owls would have taken a point against a Leeds team challenging for the play-offs before the game but it took an excellent goal from Michael Tonge with a quarter of an hour to go to bring the visitors level. Whether Leeds would have gone on to win the game following that, as Warnock asserted, will never be known as the focus for the final 15 minutes was mainly on the stands. Yet there are certainly many positives for Wednesday to take from the performance.
The international break appears to have given Jones the time he needed to gel his squad of new players into a coherent unit. Michail Antonio and Jay Bothroyd no longer looked lost as they supported lone-striker Chris O'Grady from wide attacking roles. In midfield José Semedo provided the guile and allowed Everton-loanee Ross Barkley – who looks to have settled after some hot-and-cold early performances – to shine with neat touches, passing and driving runs forward. Paul Corry also performed surprisingly well on his debut to complete the energetic trio in the centre of the park. The defence, which has been shuffled around repeatedly so far as Jones searches for his best combination, also seemed reasonably solid for once.
Attention will now turn to Blackburn, still managerless and without a win following the resignation of Steve Kean at the end of September. The initial relief felt by Rovers supporters at Kean's departure has since been tempered by repeated rejections from apparent managerial targets or their current clubs, as well as the continued looming presence of Venky's in the boardroom (or wherever their representatives may be). Performances under caretaker manager Eric Black – three uninspiring draws and a defeat to Wolves – have hardly helped matters.
The task will be a difficult one. Wednesday are the only team in the division without an away win so far this season and there is no escaping that two points from a possible 24 is not close to being good enough to avoid relegation. Apart from Peterborough's win over Huddersfield, results fell kindly last night. Millwall threw away a three-goal lead against Birmingham, Ipswich lost again and Burnley got a very late winner at Bristol City.
With games against Ipswich and Peterborough coming up after the trip to Ewood Park, Wednesday will be looking to build on the confidence their performance against Leeds should have given them and take advantage of a Blackburn team also struggling for form. There is no doubt that the team is not the finished product yet but if they don't begin to pick up points soon it may be too late to repair the damage done by the current bad run. Tom Hocking