by Chris Brookes
For every debate in football there’s always a different side of the discussion to be put forward. All the facts and figures in the world can be brought up but sometimes an overriding feeling can say more than stats ever could. Defeat for Sheffield Wednesday at home to Huddersfield Town at the weekend leaves The Owls approaching the end of November with one win all season and not a single clean sheet. Manager Dave Jones’ future has been incessantly talked about for over a year as winless runs have never been far away. Now with a famous club’s fanbase together in disillusion and a place rooted in the Championship relegation zone there is a shared call for action ringing out louder than ever.
Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Hillsborough in front of the Sky cameras may have been by one goal in the end but the 90 minutes signified something deeper than three lost league points. Derby games are typified by fierce battles but Wednesday’s lack of intensity in closing down and an absence of ideas meant Mark Robins’ out-of-form Huddersfield were met with little resistance. For any Wednesday fans with lingering uncertainty, this result and the shuddering level of apathy running through the club has convinced them it is time for the end of manager Jones’ 20-month reign.
Since promotion from League One in May 2012, Jones has had just 17 wins from 61 Championship games and only one win in 15 this season. Much worse than the damaging results has been the growing sense of detachment from supporters towards the manager and also chairman Milan Mandaric who continues to seek a buyer for the club. No shots on target in the first half against Huddersfield tells a story and another recent derby with Barnsley was just as lax and lifeless for a large part. At present, a fan poll with over 400 votes has 92.5 per cent stating it is time for Jones to go.
From the inside of it, I can say that we as supporters feel lost. There are lifelong fans saying that they have stuck around during the bad times through the years and decades but they can’t bear to be around the current situation. People don’t want to look at the league table, they don’t want to watch the highlights on The Football League Show, and Steve Claridge, that’s not all your fault this time.
The entirety of the blame cannot be placed with Dave Jones. Players have to take responsibility too because regardless of tactics the type of performance we saw on Saturday is never acceptable. It was not however an isolated example and the thrown-away points at home to Yeovil and Millwall, as well as the hammerings at Birmingham and Derby have been just as dreadful. We can only speculate about so much of what happens behind the scenes but I think the last shreds of justification for Jones to stay have by now caught the train out of Sheffield. What I’m seeing is certain Wednesday fans who always give the manager every chance now admitting that this is enough.
An attack on Jones as a person is something I’m against and since he took over from Gary Megson in March 2012 there have been some positives. The ten wins and two draws to win promotion and pull the rug from under Sheffield United were outstanding. Watching us in that spell was something special because the spirit, fitness and quality put together by Megson was mixed with Jones removing any anxieties and allowing us to play freely.
Last season a level higher it was much more difficult and as much as I could never defend the winless and losing runs credit is due for the turnaround that ultimately just got us to safety. The 5-2 win at home to Reading at the start of this month was terrific but the 3-0 defeat at Derby and the Huddersfield result since have been as bad as any performances in recent years. The succession of incorrect refereeing decisions to go against us in the last year or so has been incredible but there also comes a point where you have to rise above it. That list of offside goals and denied penalties won’t be much consolation if we’re in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy again next season.
One of the biggest features of Jones’ time here has been his confusing decisions. We had one of the most surprising on Saturday as Chris Kirkland was dropped for on-loan Arsenal goalkeeper Damian Martinez. While no player is beyond criticism can you honestly look at areas to change in our team and identify Kirkland, who has been the saviour on numerous occasions, as one that was necessary? Striker Chris Maguire and midfielder Rhys McCabe have been consistently left out of the matchday squad and while their inclusion alone might not necessarily be the key to turning everything around they are players with pedigree and an edge of flair who are being completely cast aside. Winger Jacques Maghoma is another example – brought in from Burton Albion and marginalised as the season has gone on. When you have such little resources you either have to show faith in the players you sign or take more time to find out all about them and what they will bring. Too many of Jones’ signings have been wasteful in this regard.
After promotion, a lot of the team were discarded and while it’s all well and good deciding they aren’t suitable for the step up you have to replace what you take away from that team ethic. One of last season’s loans, striker Jay Bothroyd never fit into that and in truth was a symbol of the wrong kind of dynamic in the squad. Slovenian Nejc Pecnik was also a strange signing – was he a striker, was he a winger… was he a dream?
I don’t want us to endlessly sack managers but you have to have hope and belief in what you see from your man in charge and truthfully, we just don’t. I look at this group of players and I don’t think we can say Jones is getting the best out of what he has. What is our game plan, what is our style of play? Never mind Plan B, what’s Plan A?! Huddersfield couldn’t believe how easy it was for them – a team with one win in nine before they played us. Opposition players shouldn’t be coming off the pitch at Hillsborough and thinking how simple it was. I want them in no doubt they’ve been in a battle and if they’ve beat us I want them to have held on with every last effort. At present, the matchday excitement at home lasts only as long as ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ before kick-off.
I could never feel animosity towards Milan Mandaric but I always remember his quote after sacking Alan Irvine in February 2011: “If you don’t feel something is right then you make a change.”
I’m crying out for him to revisit that. Of course he’s a businessman but I do feel he fell for Wednesday. Even someone with his ruthless track record couldn’t fail to be enraptured by the love shown to him by Wednesdayites and that amazing day last May. He wants to find a buyer and we understand that but please don’t let us slide aimlessly while we chase a deal that may not be arriving any time soon. Backing Jones with loan frontmen Matty Fryatt and Connor Wickham was very helpful but while he still has to put some resources into the team he can’t ignore the leadership of it. The club becomes a whole lot less appealing when the League One trapdoor starts to open. Attendances are falling and although there are wider economic issues for people and their families, Sheffield Wednesday with enough interest in it will always attract an impressive amount. We’re losing that interest and it matters greatly to the future of the club. We haven’t improved since last season, plain and simple.
Who could we bring in as a replacement? As much as an old favourite like Roland Nilsson coming in and leading us to glory is the stuff of dreams I’d like us to go down a different route. It’s not to say it couldn’t work, anything is possible, but I want us to look outside of someone with a Wednesday past. Crucially, we need someone who buys into the club and what it means to us. It is true that it is a job only but when you make that point as explicitly as Jones has you detach yourself from us and we don’t want to feel that way. On the prospect of Ian Holloway, relegated when working with Mandaric at Leicester of course, some have said it’s a non-starter, others have said they’d love him, but whoever it may be, it is a real opportunity should we take it. Having serious discussions about who the new manager will be while we still have one might not seem right but such is the level of struggle and discontent we are in.
There is a better way for us to be. Wednesdayites, don’t settle for thinking that this club with the support, the name, the stadium and even the ability in the current squad can’t be more than this lifeless situation we have at the moment. We all loved Megson pointing to the badge when the United fans were chanting at him in the derby but it’s not even that we’re asking for, just an appreciation for us as fans and what we expect from our team and manager. If you truly love football your club becomes a part of you. They’re the conversation starter with people you’ll see through the week, they’re the thing you plan your days off work around, and they’re the reason for setting aside money that would probably be better spent elsewhere. When it’s like it is at the moment with Wednesday you wonder why. Every so often though something comes along to make you realise all over again.
I am so sure that can be around the corner for us if the right decisions are now made. I’m 23 and have spent around half my life wanting to know everything there is to know about Wednesday, every part of the history, stories from those who stood on the terraces long before my time, and what it is to be a Wednesdayite. I know for certain that what we’re seeing right now isn’t it. A club with no life in it isn’t what generations of our fans have passed on to their children. The heart that people put into supporting Wednesday, the thousands of pounds that they spend and the endless miles of travelling – it’s not to sit back and watch us slide back down like it means nothing. There are people who loved Wednesday until the day they died who wouldn’t stand for this and none of us should either. The club makes you happy, it makes you laugh, it makes you angry, it makes you sad… but it should never make you feel empty.
This season isn’t dead. We’ve been wounded but the recovery is there if we want it. A lot of games are coming up so let’s kick some life back into the club we love. At this moment we’re in a corner and we’re accepting the beating. I want us to come out swinging. Milan, I ask you to make that call, and it’s not without some hurt that I say it. Thank you for the good you’ve done here Dave, we’ll never forget that final whistle against Wycombe, but it’s time to say goodbye.