Posts Tagged ‘Sheffield Wednesday’

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Owls v Palace: The relegation play-off final

April 27, 2010

Five years on and it’s almost like a re-run of the League 1 play-off final.  In 2005, I and my son Jonny were among 41,000 Sheffield Wednesday fans at the Millennium Stadium Cardiff to watch the Owls take on Hartlepool (with 17,000 fans of their own), with promotion to the Championship as the prize.  I remember holding on the phone for hours to get tickets.  Every Wednesday fan, however peripheral, felt caught up in the occasion and wanted to be there.  On that occasion Wednesday won and the ensuing cup presentation and celebrations were so joyous and glamour-packed you might be forgiven for thinking we had just won the Champions League or the World Cup.

Sunday’s match against Palace is technically just a scheduled Championship fixture like any other, but for practical purposes it is a play-off final.  As in 2005, two teams are playing against each other in a single match for a place in the Championship next season.  The loser will be playing in League 1.  It means as much as 2005, captures the imagination just as much and Owls fans will be clamouring to be in the crowd.  Futile attempts to get through to the ticket office by phone, or to get a response from the club website, took me straight back to 2005.

I should have been on the website even before the final whistle at Selhurst Park last night confirmed that Palace had failed to beat West Brom, missing the chance to secure Championship survival and setting up the dramatic finale on Sunday which, as fate would have it, brings together the two remaining candidates for the last remaining relegation spot.  Thankfully, Jonny managed to get through on the website at around 1:50am and secured 4 tickets together in the South Stand.

While there are practical and emotional similarities with Cardiff in 2005, there are also some differences.  No extra time or penalties.  No cup to be presented.  Palace need only draw; Wednesday need to win.  Against that, Wednesday have home advantage and will have a full house urging their team on.

2005 was about the euphoria of promotion.  2010 is all about avoiding the anguish of relegation.  We win to stay where we are, not to go on to greater and more hopeful things.  In Cardiff, both sets of fans milled in the streets in a friendly spirit.  Everyone was enjoying their day out and there was a genuine party atmosphere.  There was nothing to lose, and the chance of a big gain.  This time, the atmosphere will be far more tense and grim.  The winner gets away with a narrow let-off; can breathe again.  No great hike in status to get euphoric over.  For the loser, there is the despair of the drop.

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2008 and all that

January 1, 2009

Vista busy cursor On 28 December 2007 I published my “Eight for 2008” in response to another blogger’s challenge.  The idea of the aforementioned viral meme was “to list eight things you’d like to see happen in 2008”.

Now that 2008 is over, let’s look back and see how many of my eight came about:

1. A democratic Pakistan

Preferably combined with “Mr.” Pervez Musharraf getting his come-uppance as quickly as possible.

Things are not 100% hunky dory in Pakistan, but democracy has clearly returned and we no longer have Prez Pervez.  That’s 1 out of 1 so far.

2. Global financial meltdown is avoided

I confess to feeling decidedly nervous about how well world financial markets will handle the continuing reverberations sparked off by the sub-prime mortgage debacle in the US. A soft landing can only be achieved if the key institutions follow the right policies. If they get it wrong we could all be in for a very rough ride.

Groan ….   1 out of 2.

3. The Arab world takes a lead by recognising Israel unilaterally

Unlikely, I know, but such a bold move would lead to peace quickly because it would send Hamas and other hard-liners a signal that their campaign to remove Israel in toto no longer had widespread sympathy throughout the arab world. The game would be up for them and a settled peace would quickly follow, including the creation of a Palestinian state.

Well they should have listened to me.  We could well have done with Hamas getting the rug pulled from under them last year.  If that had happened we wouldn’t be seeing what’s happening  in Gaza right now.

It’s not too late, Arab states, disown those Hamas thugs now!  1 out of 3.

4. Either the Blu-ray or HD-DVD camp win the format war.

I don’t mind which, but a winner needs to emerge quickly lest it prove to be a pyrrhic victory and consumers will lose out too.

Blu-ray won, but proceeded to try to milk their hard won monopoly by keeping prices high so market penetration has been very weak.  I think it was a pyrrhic victory.  With increasing broadband speeds, users will be turning to Internet downloads for their HD content.  Still, it’s 2 out of 4.

5. Jesse James snoozie movie misses out at the Oscars

I’m referring to “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”. It’s hard enough to stay awake through the title, never mind the film.

And indeed after missing out at the Baftas and the Golden Globes, it failed to collect an Academy Award. 3 out of 5.

6. Lewis Hamilton is F1 World Champion 2008

A great guy as well as a great racer. The pressure got to him right at the death this year. But he’s still very young. He’ll toughen up.

Boy, did he leave it late! But heck, it was an exciting way to win and who said F1 was boring! 4 out of 6.

7. Jethro Tull revive “A Passion Play” and take it on tour

The world may just about be ready for it now.

Jethro who? Duh …    4 out of 7.

8. Sheffield Wednesday beat Preston on 1st Jan.

That would be a great start to 2008.

They did, although they made extremely heavy weather of it and the football was unspeakable.  Still, it’s 5 out of 8.  Not bad all told.

A bonus 9th might be Microsoft apologising to the entire world for Vista.

That was never going to happen, but I’d take a well-received Windows 7 in 2009 as a good way to make amends.  As I’ve recently observed, Vista these days works just fine and there are reasons to be optimistic that Windows 7 will be a hit.

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The minibus delivers!

May 4, 2008

After a dreadful, nerve-wracking season The Owls finished on a high today, securing their Championship status with an emphatic 4-1 home win against Norwich City.  Any one of five clubs could have been lumbered with the one remaining undecided relegation spot, but in the event Leicester were the literal fall guys, dropping to the third tier for the first time in their history.  Sorry but I’m not crying for them – it was someone else’s turn to feel the pain for once.

Leon Clarke

Wednesday’s fourth goal was scored late on by overweight goal machine Leon Clarke, who had come on as a substitute replacing fellow scorer Ben Sahar, the fleet-footed budding superstar striker on loan from Chelsea.  I didn’t hear it but am told the substitution was described on the radio as “… the Ferrari is coming off to be replaced by the minibus …”, no doubt a reference to Clarke’s ample bodily proportions.

Well Clarke struck in the dying minutes to put the result beyond any possible doubt, much as he had done the previous week, crucially against Leicester.  I liked one comment (from L_Owl_JC) in Sheffield Wednesday fans’ forum OwlstalkThe minibus delivers!” Might have worked slightly better if Leon had been described as a transit van but still worth a chuckle.

Thanks to their final winning flourish, and the tight bunching of clubs’ points tallies, Wednesday finished a respectable 16th, the highest position they were able to attain all season.  On its own the final table says nothing about Wednesday’s torrid season, the 6 defeats on the bounce at the very start, the magical November that won Laws the manager of the month trophy, the subsequent injury crisis that packed the treatment room with a squad strong enough to compete in the Championship, the run of seven draws as the season drew to a close and the distracting and shameful off-field shenanigins which led to a marked fall in attendances.  Wednesday showed extraordinary resilience and stickability in the face of adversity.  Lacking the firepower (through injury) to score the goals needed to notch up the wins, the stalwart young centre backs, Wood and Beevers, made us almost impossible to beat with Gandalfesque “You shall not pass!” resolve.

Right now Wednesday fans are in party mode and it may be a little soon to be thinking ahead to next season, but I do wonder whether Brian Laws will not immediately be at a disadvantage compared with other Championship managers.  His peers may now take a bit of time off (those whose clubs are involved in the playoffs excepted) but will soon be able to turn their attention to new signings and strengthening their squads for another gruelling and highly competitive campaign.  Wednesday still have no chairman and there is no obvious sign that the much rumoured take-over (by a consortium led by Geoff Sheard) will be finalised any time soon.  At best it will be quite a few weeks before there is any leadership, direction and funding and in the meantime Laws will be hamstrung.  Frozen out by his employer’s state of paralysis while the best of the available players get snapped up by competing clubs.

I do though have the highest regard for Laws.  Given the almost impossible circumstances under which he has had to work he has proved to be nothing less than a miracle worker, and quite entitled to claim that, in the same boat, José Mourinho wouldn’t have done any better.  Aside from that, he comes over as a good, honest bloke who really cares about the club and the fans.  He never misses the opportunity to praise the fans and always manages to sound like he means it.  And he probably does.  All power to the man.

I also wonder whether Owls fans might be kinder to Mr Minibus next season, assuming Leon is not moved on.  He quickly became an object of ridicule when he arrived at Hillsborough because he looked like an inept lumbering oaf; his confidence was destroyed and we ended up trying (unsuccessfully) to offload him to Southend.  Following his goals in the last couple of games, particularly the vital clincher against Leicester, fans may feel better disposed towards Leon and might cut him a bit more slack.  When all’s said and done, his goals to minutes on the field ratio over the season finished up fairly impressive.

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Cold blue steel and sweet fire

January 19, 2008

Cold or not, the steel is blue. The blue side of Sheffield has won the steel city derby. And how does it feel? Ah, that’s where the sweet fire comes in.

Steeler owl, a member of the Owlstalk on-line forum for Sheffield Wednesday fans, posted an item entitled “Carlsberg don’t do scoreboards, but if they did…” and containing this picture:

Owls 2 Blades 0

The best scoreboard in the world, and no “probably” about it.

Sweet fire indeed …

With apologies to steeler owl and Joni Mitchell

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Two divisions below

January 2, 2008

Five days ago I posted my “Eight for 2008” – my list of 8 things I hoped would come about in the New Year.

Well one of my 8 has come to pass, on New Year’s Day, when Sheffield Wednesday did beat Preston North End at Hillsborough. It may well sadly be the only one of the eight to come to fruition.

The three points were obviously very welcome, but there was really nothing else to cheer about. I had taken my wife and two of the kids as a New Year’s Day “treat”. At the end of the first half, with Wednesday trailing to a goal given away by a hair-pullingly shocking Lee Bullen underhit back pass, I felt I had to turn to my family and apologise for bringing them to the game. The standard of football from both sides was so abject that my wife remarked “This is supposed to be Championship football. There are two divisions below this*! What on earth can they be like?”

It was indescribable. No-one seemed able to make a pass to a colleague. Balls were just hoofed aimlessly. The Owls would win possession and immediately give it away again. No sense of urgency or purpose. Above all no confidence. I can’t recall a more desperate performance, even in the depths of League 1 under Chris Turner.

Another one of my wife’s observed comments was that there was no way anyone was going to score by constructive football; it would take a defensive lapse. And so it proved. Preston benefited from Bullen’s howler in the first half and Wednesday equalised when Preston’s goalie Lonergan panicked in the face of the onrushing Akpo Sodje, misjudged his run, let the ball bounce over his head and left Akpo with an open goal. It was somewhere between farcical and tragic.

Wednesday’s winner, around 10 minutes from time, was courtesy of a penalty for a needless handball.

It’s hard to claim the Owls deserved the win. They did play a good deal better in the second half (Laws must have have given them a good roasting and basting) but still created little. The only two real chances created from open play fell to Preston. They were very good chances indeed and Wednesday had a real let-off on each occasion.

What was refreshing was Brian Laws’s honesty when interviewed on the radio after the game. His assessment was brutally frank and accurate. The game had been shocking and bereft of discernible football, particularly in the first half, and he had the good grace to come out and say it in as many words.

All power to you, Brian. An honest man, committed and professional.

Let’s hope the board can see their way to giving him just a bit of support in the transfer window. If they don’t we’re sunk and it would make no difference if you put Capello, Scolari or Mourinho in charge.

*In the professional game – Ed

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