PERHAPS the footballing gods are finally starting to shine on Dave Jones.
His Sheffield Wednesday side certainly rode their luck as they ground out an “ugly” win over fellow relegation rivals Barnsley.
The Championship strugglers got a huge slice of good fortune in front of the Sky cameras to halt their downward spiral.
Chris O’Grady’s 35th-minute winner should have been ruled out. The striker gleefully tapped home from close range after Reds goalkeeper Luke Steele spilled Lewis Buxton’s high, hanging cross under the challenge of Gary Madine.
Michail Antonio was also in close proximity but Madine admitted afterwards he nudged Steele, who was furious with referee Stuart Attwell for not blowing up for a foul. Television replays also suggest Attwell made the incorrect call.
“It was an ugly but well-earned win,” insisted Jones. “We had Lady Luck on our side for a change but we deserved it because we battled hard. Gary has admitted that he has barged the goalkeeper; we have not had that luck but today it was our time.
“That could be a Christmas present and we will take it. But I will take any win after the run we have been on. Sometimes you have to win ugly, you have to earn your luck and that is what we did.”
These days, too much protection is given to goalkeepers, but Madine had taken his eyes off the ball and was never going to get their before Steele.
Both Jones and Keith Hill, the Reds manager, criticised Attwell’s performance.
“I thought the referee had an absolute shocker to be fair,” said Jones. “Everything after that went against us and he struggled to keep control.”
Hill also took a swipe at the official, saying: “The referee gets it wrong and the ramifications of him getting that decision wrong could be catastrophic; the result has been decided by that decision.
“I just thought it was a difficult game for the referee. He will be disappointed with his performance when he comes to digest it.
“Unfortunately I don’t have a second job to go to on Monday and I have to deal with it. I know he is human and I know he will be hurting because he has made a mistake but it’s happening on too many occasions where games are being decided by major decisions going wrong with referees. It is not the first time I have suffered with it this season or Dave (Jones) has.”
Earlier on in the South Yorkshire derby, Attwell also failed to send off Steve Foster, one of three changes made by Hill, despite a late tackle on Madine, a decision which Jones branded “scandalous”.
The defender was yellow-carded and football pundit Steve Claridge condemned the challenge too. “You will not see a worse tackle than that this season,” he said. “If ever a tackle deserved a suspension, it was that. There is no excuse. It was a career-ending (challenge).”
Having slipped to the bottom of the table before kick-off following Peterborough United’s shock 2-1 victory at Cardiff City, the Owls could ill afford to suffer an eighth consecutive league defeat heading into the hectic Christmas schedule.
Following O’Grady’s effort, Jones’ charges sat back, defended in numbers and invited Barnsley on to them. He demanded the team cut out the “stupid and naive” mistakes and they duly delivered, producing a disciplined, professional display.
Miguel Llera and Anthony Gardner, reinstated at the heart of the defence at the expense of Martin Taylor, performed heroically to ensure Wednesday kept just their third clean sheet of the season.
Jones said: “I thought they (the back four) were absolutely magnificent. Every single one of them. But then the people in front did their jobs as well.
“It will give everybody a big lift because it just proves they are capable of getting results. It might not be pretty. We have played far better than that in lots of games we have lost. But it was not about pretty football. It was about making sure we dogged it out, fought and scrapped because they are in a similar situation too us.”
In a first half full of industry but short on quality, Steele blocked Antonio’s dangerous cross with his feet in the third minute before Chris Kirkland beat out Stephen Dawson’s fierce drive from distance after clever play from Craig Davies.
Barnsley could have equalised a minute after falling behind but Marcus Tudgay, formerly of Wednesday, planted his header over when well-placed following Scott Golbourne’s centre.
Hill’s men dominated possession and created several opportunities in the second period, Kirkland saving a powerful low free-kick from Davies and Llera hacking the loose ball to safety with Tudgay lurking.
Substitute David Perkins’ drive went agonisingly wide before Marlon Harewood, who had a trial spell with the Owls in the summer, had a shot blocked.
Wednesday struggled to retain possession as Barnsley continued to pour forward in numbers, with David Prutton clearing a Tudgay header off the line.
Against the run of play, Rhys McCabe, brought on for the injured Madine, almost capitalised on a slip from John Stones but the Reds snuffed out the danger.
Harewood, on the stretch, hooked Dawson’s delivery off target in the latter stages but Wednesday held on to send their 3,900-plus supporters home happy. Jones said: “We’ve had a right go at some of them in the week because we have been playing well in games and silly mistakes have cost us.
“You don’t get performances like that if you are not all in it together. Just now and then, one or two go looking for work when they don’t have to.
“They are good enough to play at this level and they have just proved it. I looked for a big response from them and I got it.”
Hill, in his programme notes, wrote: “The outcome of this match won’t define both teams’ season’s but it could define a manager’s position.”
This result gives Jones some much-needed breathing space. By contrast, Hill continues to look anxiously over his shoulder after an 11-match winless run.