by Chris Brookes
What would represent a successful season for the Owls this time out?
When we last got promoted to the Championship in 2005 it was very much a case of survival at all costs, with very little resources for Paul Sturrock to work with at that time. A lot has changed now with regard to how we’ve come up (automatic rather than the play-offs), the off-field state is no longer undermined by politics and the stranglehold of £20million+ debt, and we have in Milan Mandaric a very ambitious chairman out to get us back to the Premier League as soon as possible. Obviously after such a euphoric season a lot of people are hoping we’ll ride that crest of a wave and make a play-off or promotion push. I’ve seen more and more fans just lately saying somewhere around 10th would be a good season, certainly a relegation fight isn’t being discussed. Who we sign in the next few weeks will determine whether it’s higher mid-table we’re aiming for or if we can realistically think that the top six is attainable.
Are you happy with the manager?
Dave Jones’ record as Wednesday manager is currently ten wins and two draws, twelve games that saw us overhaul our biggest rivals United to steal promotion right at the end of an amazingly emotional season – I’d say he’s not done too badly! He’s in a deservedly untouchable position at the moment but this season will bring its share of tough moments and testing situations, and when that time arrives it’s up to us as supporters to get behind an experienced manager who has of course won promotion to the top flight before with Wolves and taken Cardiff to an FA Cup final. People will bring up that he couldn’t manage to get Cardiff promoted through the play-offs but I personally have faith in a manager with his experience at the top level (with Southampton too) and in this division. Everything is rosy at the moment but when difficulties like a defeat on a freezing Tuesday/Wednesday night arise it’s important not to go too overboard with the hysterics because I really feel Jones and Mandaric know what it takes to have us on the right path, as they’ve already shown big glimpses of.
If there was one thing you could ask him to change this season what would it be?
Jones’ time in charge so far has been just about perfect so there really isn’t much you could pick out to change. He has favoured a good playing style in which you can see the players make a concerted effort to take time on the ball and he guided us to consistent victories in the most titanic League One promotion battle there’s ever been, and against the bitterest of rivals too which sent everything into overdrive in terms of how much it meant to all involved. Maybe he could have played Ryan Lowe a bit more but you really can’t argue with Jones’ record as Wednesday manager to this point!
What’s your views on the signings made so far?
Chris Kirkland seems to have resolved his personal issue which had casted doubts over whether he’d be with us for the season. He, like Anthony Gardner (signed from Crystal Palace), is one where I have no doubt on his ability but there’ll always be the ‘if they stay fit’ factor. We’ve been burned with those type of signings in the past, the key difference (I hope) this time is that we’ll have protected ourselves with the terms of the contracts so there won’t be a Wim Jonk ‘appearance fee even if he doesn’t play’ clause. Chris Maguire up front (from Derby County) will be an interesting one, he has clear ability with the quality of some of his goals, hopefully he fits into the picture as at 23 he could be a key part of things for years to come. Nejc Pecnik, who played for Slovenia at the last World Cup, is an attacking midfielder/forward who seems to have a lot of technical guile, I’m hoping he can be the creative variable to turn a few games our way. We’ve brought in a few players for the development squad but 22-year-old Portuguese midfielder Diogo Amado has been involved with the first team in the friendlies. Against Sporting Lisbon he took a few set-pieces and I think he’ll get a good amount of games this season, he’ll be hard to miss with his hair as well! At left-back there’s Joe Mattock, a former England Under-21 international who impressed with Brighton last season on loan from West Brom. He had a big move as a teenager and all hasn’t gone entirely to plan, with an off-field incident too, but he’s got a chance to really get going with us. Kieran Lee at right-back won four Player of the Year awards at Oldham last season and is versatile, still young at 24 and had a solid grounding as Manchester United reserve team captain. Whether Marlon Harewood on trial joins permanently remains to be seen but we still have some really key areas we need to fill.
Who would you like to see brought in?
From our side that won promotion in May we’ve lost the loan signings of Danny Batth, Michail Antonio, Keith Treacy and Nile Ranger. Batth (who was on loan from Wolves) was outstanding at the heart of the defence all season and it seems very unlikely we’ll get him back with Wolves now in the Championship as well. The supposedly impending transfer of Antonio (Reading winger) on a permanent deal has dragged on and all of our fans just want a solution to it with him hopefully back with us. Treacy is someone I really want us to sign (from Burnley), he lacked match fitness when he first came in last season but you could see the precision he has with his delivery and once he got his sharpness he looked a talent with some drive about him too. Everyone has been pre-occupied with Antonio and he’s without doubt top of my list too, but if we can get Treacy as well I think he’d be a shrewd signing. Ranger divides opinion, with question marks over his off-field antics (though he revealed a t-shirt on the last day saying ‘I am a changed man’) and some not overly sold on his on-pitch ability, a little bit harsh in some instances though as he played his part in promotion with two important goals in the run-in. I’ve had this debate a few times but he’d be someone I would take a chance on if the price was right. Looking at the squad now there’s a fair bit of work still to do – two wingers are a necessity, a centre-back (ideally right-footed), a striker with pace and a central midfielder too are needed. Plenty to progress with in the transfer market but I have belief that we’ll get what is required.
Is there a young player who could make a name for himself this term?
There isn’t really a youngster from our set-up who is really hot on the heels of the first team. There’s a young Australian striker Jarrod Kyle who signed a professional contract this summer after winning Player of the Year with the academy and finishing as top scorer. I would be surprised if he made a professional appearance this season but he could be one to keep an eye on in future. Liam Palmer, a midfielder, has gone on loan to Tranmere for the next few months, he’s a talented player but needs regular games at the age of 21 (in September). As I mentioned, Diogo Amado the Portuguese midfielder could play more of a part than initially expected but bringing our own players through for first-team contention is something we’ve needed to improve and hopefully we’ll be able to do so over the coming years.
Is there any player from last year who you fear might be out of his depth at Championship level?
I feel a certain loyalty to the players who did the business for us in League One last season but then ‘there’s no room for sentiment’ comes into my thinking. Rob Jones has been a great captain and he has some good qualities (vital goals last year) but he is susceptible against someone with pace. I think he’ll have a part to play but as much as I like him I wouldn’t be too comfortable if he played the majority of games if we’re looking to push towards the top half of the Championship. Miguel Llera was fantastic towards the end of last season and he has become a real favourite with his goals. I’m not totally sure either way on how he’ll do – he has superb technique on the ball for a defender but there are errors now and again. In all fairness Llera didn’t make too many mistakes for us compared to his time at Charlton and any that he did make he far outweighed with the things he did right so he deserves his chance. We’ve brought Anthony Gardner in who is more than good enough but you have to feel he will miss games with knocks here and there and without Danny Batth this time I think we need another reliable presence to be brought in at the back.
Which game do you really want to win?
Leeds is always one with an edge to it, Barnsley too but maybe more so for them than us in all honesty. In 2010 we had a straight shootout on the last day with Crystal Palace – it was ‘winner stays up’ or ‘a draw keeps Palace up’ and we drew 2-2 meaning that it was us who were relegated. That day in a packed Hillsborough was horrible for us and a win against them would be nice, but I don’t feel a dislike for Palace by any means. There are a lot of really good games in terms of the stature of the clubs involved this season in the Championship but I’m going to say Derby would be the one I would like to win the most. We’ve had a really bad recent run against them and a win at Pride Park on the opening day would get us up and running for the months ahead.
Last season was the most enjoyable in my time supporting Wednesday with some of the best and most emotional moments you’ll ever get. I’m positive and excited about the direction in which our club is going and more than anything I’m looking forward to sharing it all with our fans again this season. I hope we get some more fantastic moments to bring us all together because last year was incredible. Up The Owls!