There are a lot of mixed emotions following the draw at Bramall Lane in the Steel City Derby. Some Owls fans are delighted at avoiding a hammering, whilst at the same time others are embarrassed that we went to Bramall Lane and defended for ninety minutes. The truth, as ever, is somewhere in the middle.
In isolation, without context, the result for Wednesday is a very good one. The Owls were coming off a run of four consecutive defeats with some real problems in defence. In the build-up to the match Sky Sports gave a series of stats that showed Wednesday to be at the bottom of the table in terms of chances conceded, goals conceded and so on. It was not a pretty picture but this was just a small taste of the gratuitous praise given to United all evening. Yes, United have had a fantastic start to the season just like last season. However, they fell away from the pack and finished 10th a whole twelve points ahead of us having lost the same number of games as us. See the screenshot of the final table below. Hardly a shift in the balance of power as Sky Sports would have you believe. A bad season for the Owls? Definitely. A great season for United? Definitely. But let’s stop with the hyperbole.
Both clubs lost 17 games and only an eight-goal gap on goal difference. A good season for United and a bad season for Wednesday, but not exactly a shift in power.
Chris Wilder made a number of comments after the match last night about Wednesday being a “powerful club” with a team full of big names. There’s also been many a mention of our supposed high earners in the squad. Well, let’s have a look at the respective line-ups from last night starting with the Owls:
Dawson – Academy Player
Thorniley – Academy Player
Lees – Free Transfer
Hector – Loan
Baker – Academy Player
Fox - £738,000
Bannan – Free Transfer
Pelupessy - £450,000
Penney – Academy Player
Reach - £5,000,000
Fletcher – Free Transfer
Granted, there will be some decent wages for Fletcher, Bannan, Reach and Lees. Doubtful these wages will be amongst the highest in the division though, especially when you consider clubs like Aston Villa, Middlesbrough or West Brom.
Let’s have a look at the Blades:
Henderson – Loan
Basham – Free Transfer
Egan - £4,100,000
O’Connell - ?
Freeman – Free Transfer
Norwood - £2,200,000
Fleck – Free Transfer
Stevens – Free Transfer
Duffy – Free Transfer
McGoldrick – Free Transfer
Sharp - £635,000
I’ve taken transfer information from the site transfermarkt.co.uk, except for Reach which is widely known to be £5M.
Sheffield Wednesday fees - £6,188,000
Sheffield United fees - £6,935,000
Interesting numbers there….. Also considering that United had many more experienced professionals in their line-up, is it any surprise they looked a better side? Based on those line-ups Wednesday are hardly the “powerful club” that Wilder likes to portray us as. Nor are we a giant killing opportunity. We are a club having a bad run on and off the field. As is the norm for Wilder, his success is always based around how United are performing in relation to Wednesday. United could be second in the league and he would count that as a failure if we were top.
As stated at the start of this article, in isolation this is a good result for the Owls but this ignores the fact that the club is in a sorry state. Rumours on Owlstalk surfaced shortly before kick-off that Hutchinson had been spotted in a restaurant in the city as he has been banned from match-days. Rumours also abound that many of our senior players have been frozen out for questioning the tactics of our manager.
It is a cause for concern that Wednesday are in such a position that going across the city and holding out for a draw is seen as a success. This season is very much a transitional season though, or at least it should be. We are playing a waiting game and letting contracts run out so we can have another crack at promotion in a couple of seasons. It means that we have a year or two of hardship to endure. I don’t really have a problem with this, much like I don’t have a problem with us blooding youngsters. My issue is that I think we can do all of that and still be more adventurous with our play. I think we can still aim higher than we are doing. I’ve posted at length that changing manager will not solve all our problems overnight, but the right manager could get the extra bit of performance out of the squad we have. Another advantage to a new manager would be a clean slate for many of our players that have been frozen out.
There is now a two-week break before our next run of games to see out 2018.
Derby (h) 24/11
Bolton (h) 27/11
Blackburn (a) 01/12
Rotherham (h) 08/12
Swansea (a) 15/12
Preston (h) 22/12
Middlesbrough (a) 26/12
West Brom (a) 29/12
Four of those games are against teams in the top third of the table; Derby, Blackburn, ‘Boro and West Brom. I’m more concerned about taking points off those teams below us; Bolton, Rotherham and Preston. If we lose one or more of those games then we could be going into 2019 firmly in a relegation battle.
If the rumours of an unsettled and unhappy squad are true, then I would not be surprised to see our current form continue. If we look at our current points per game and extrapolate from there we will sit on 29 points from 25 games; or 54 points by the end of the season.
It’s going to be a long season and the pessimist in me fears that we will change our manager once it is already too late to salvage anything from this season. I look at some of the teams in the division that are putting together a good run such as QPR, Blackburn or even Sheffield United and when you compare squads no one can suggest that any of those squads are significantly better than ours. It all comes down to the manager in charge. If we had the right manager, we could have at least six more points on the board.
I said a while ago, when we sacked Carlos, that the next manager had to know this league. I didn’t want a manager to come in and have to learn on the job. Football is more than just tactics and fitness. It’s about experience, personalities and emotion as well. Jos could very well be the best tactician in the Championship but if he has to learn about every team for the first time as he comes up against them, then that’s not as useful as a manager that knows every squad from personal experience. This experience can be useful in a number of ways, even just from knowing that the opposition centre-back hates a few words in his ear from the striker, or that a certain midfield pairing can’t stand each other off the pitch. An experienced manager who knows the division can exploit these little nuggets of information. Sometimes experience and emotion can count for more than tactics and technique and that’s why United and Wednesday are where they are.
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Critic. Writer. Thinker. Observer. Creator of nowwelive.com.