Sheffield Wednesday are second from bottom in the Championship, they’ve lost their last seven games and on Saturday they lost to fellow relegation-batters Bristol City.
Manager, Dave Jones, is under severe pressure, with fans questioning both his ability to inspire his team and his tactical nous. Jones led the Owls to automatic promotion from League 1 last season, and has years of experience in the Championship with Wolves and Cardiff, but is he the man to lead Wednesday to safety?
Jones was appointed in March with Wednesday 3rd in the League 1 table and fresh from a morale-boosting victory against Steel City rivals Sheffield United. He led the team to promotion, leapfrogging United in the process, and Wednesday looked set for a fresh start in the Championship.
In August everything looked rosy for the Owls; they were unbeaten in the opening month of the season, winning two and drawing one. Few people were tipping Wednesday for the drop, and nobody could have predicted the abysmal run of results which would follow.
Wednesday had substantially boosted their squad in the summer, acquiring the services of full-back Joe Mattock, experienced centre-back Anthony Gardner and striker Jay Bothroyd, who excelled under Jones at Cardiff. They also bought Michail Antonio, who shined on loan from Reading the previous season, and borrowed highly-rated youngster Ross Barkley from Everton.
There were also exotic-sounding transfers, such as Slovenian international Nejc Pecnik and the loan of Rodri from Barcelona B.
It seemed Sheffield Wednesday were all set for an enjoyable season back in the second tier of English football, but things turned sour very quickly.
After their unbeaten August Wednesday went on a miserable nine match winless run. They then won two games in a row against relegation rivals Ipswich and Peterborough and the Hillsborough club seemed ready to turn their season around.
Alas they’ve lost all their games since beating Peterborough 2-1 on November 3, and have slowly slipped down the table.
The defeat at home to Bristol City will hurt for a number of reasons.
Two of City’s goals were penalties, cheaply conceded through nervous defending by players who had just netted for Wednesday. Another painful aspect of this defeat is that Wednesday looked to be in control of the game, leading 2-1 with five minutes remaining, only for a Baldock penalty and a superb Adomah free-kick to steal the points at the death.
Wednesday’s misery was compounded when a late Wednesday goal was disallowed because defender Miguel Llera had grabbed the referee to complain about a decision he’d made, forcing the ref to halt play just before Gary Madine scored.
Of course this latest loss is especially painful because it was against a Bristol City team, below them at the start of play, who had themselves been on a poor run of form. The Robins, who revealed in midweek the appalling financial state of the club (record losses of £14.4m for the year ending May 2012), are now three points ahead of the Owls and outside the relegation zone.
Saturday’s soul-crushing defeat is the low-point in a disappointing season for Wednesday, and it’s piled the pressure on Dave Jones.
Jones unable to deal with pressure
Jones is probably one of the most mysterious characters in the Football League. He’s an extremely proud man, and somebody who resents criticism or questioning. This has damaged his relationship with the press, and to a lesser extent, with fans in recent years.
He can appear dour, negative and stubborn, and this is a defence mechanism that rarely works in his favour when under pressure. His stubbornness has been misread as arrogance in the past when in fact it’s usually a sign of insecurity.
Jones’s record suggests he’s a manager who struggles under pressure. He led Wolves to promotion via the play-offs when they were second favourites against a Sheffield United team which had reached the semi-finals of both the FA and League Cup that season. However in the Premier League Wolves struggled to adapt and finished bottom.
At Cardiff he reached the 2008 FA Cup final against the odds, but consistently failed to get promoted despite buying many high-profile players. Year after year the Bluebirds would get into promising positions, only to crumble spectacularly under pressure when expectations were raised.
At Sheffield Wednesday he took over a team which was not expected to finish in the top two, but had more or less secured a play-off spot. With expectations and pressure low he managed to rally his team and they overtook Sheffield United to finish 3rd.
Now though, with Wednesday struggling in the bottom three, Jones is once again under immense pressure, and supporters have been critical of his decision-making.
Last week Mark Beevers was allowed to sign for Millwall, where he’s been outstanding in defence while on loan from Wednesday. He was sold despite the fact Wednesday are shipping goals at an alarming rate and haven’t kept a clean sheet since October.
Following Saturday’s game Jones was asked if he feared for his job and he said: “I didn’t give two penalties away at the end of the day,” adding: “It’s hard for us coaches because we’re under pressure as well.”
When asked if he expected to be in charge for next week’s crunch Yorkshire derby against Barnsley, Jones simply said: “I hope so. I hope so.”
Should he stay or should he go?
Confidence is in short supply at Wednesday and the players look dejected. There are some good footballers at the club but nobody knows when the losing run will end.
The few fans who still believed in Dave Jones are slowly turning against him as the situation gets bleaker. Sadly, Dave Jones’s jittery, overly-defensive interview answers suggest his confidence levels are about as low as those of the players.
The board has to decide whether or not they believe Dave Jones can inspire the players to turn things around. Unfortunately for the manager I suspect they’ll see what we all see; Jones isn’t the man to lead Wednesday to safety.