Owls fans frustrated at slow start
20 September ~ As the players disappeared down the Hillsborough tunnel at full time last Saturday, a ripple of applause rang around the stadium. Unfortunately Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones and his players had already trudged towards the dressing room with boos following their every step – the appreciation was for a ten-man Yeovil team who had fought back to draw 1-1, showing the battling qualities, desire and willingness to attack opponents that have been severely lacking from those in blue-and-white stripes so far.
Wednesday are still winless in all competitions and the pressure on Jones and chairman Milan Mandaric is mounting with every lost point – they have managed to throw away 11 from winning positions so far. Up front there is a lack of invention. Atdhe Nuhiu, the six-foot-six-inch Austrian striker signed from Rapid Vienna in the summer, must wonder what he has let himself in for, spending most of the time with his back to goal having the ball kicked at his head. When he is given a chance to control it – his best assets are actually his strength and quick feet – he often finds himself isolated and crowded out, making him look ineffective.
With Gary Madine training with Carlisle and awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of assault, Wednesday's only other striking option is the energetic Chris Maguire. Yet Jones seems reluctant to pair what would seem like good partnership, with Maguire feeding off Nuhiu's knock-downs, and instead opts for wingers Michail Antonio or Jermaine Johnson in the role. Both are wildly inconsistent finishers, crossers and dribblers who frustrate more often than they excite.
The midfield is generally bypassed, with Giles Coke and David Prutton battling to win the ball but lacking passing finesse and composure to retain possession. Neither breaks forward from midfield regularly, meaning the opposition defence are rarely outnumber or faced with more than one man lumbering towards them at a time.
In defence there are injury problems, with Anthony Gardner out long-term and the reliable Lewis Buxton only just catching up after a long lay-off. This has resulted in Chris Kirkland being the outstanding performer of the season so far, his saves often keeping Wednesday in matches when they should have been beaten comprehensively.
Fans are getting impatient with Mandaric, demanding he spends money. But it is unlikely he will pump too much of his own cash into the club at the moment, with rumours of an imminent takeover rife. Either way, it would be worrying to see the club begin spending irresponsibly given the financial turmoil they have endured over the past 15 years. Instead they are putting plans in place to improve crippling long-term issues with their scouting and youth set-ups. But these will not take effect instantly and the Hillsborough crowd is an impatient one.
Instead Jones has called on some of his old favourites in defender Roger Johnson, on loan from Wolves, and ex-Cardiff midfielder Stephen McPhail, who has signed a short-term contract having trained with the squad since being released from Cardiff in the summer. Neither inspire much optimism but both have something to prove and plenty of experience at this level.
Jones says Wednesday are playing better away from home – a dubious claim given the recent bore-draw at Middlesbrough – but they go into the weekend unbeaten in four. Despite not having won all season they are not adrift at the bottom, nor are they in the relegation zone and their opponents Birmingham are struggling too, below Wednesday on goal difference. If ever there was a time to turn the draws into wins, this could be it. But then that's what everyone said before Yeovil. Tom Hocking