Sheffield Wednesday’s record victory against Leeds and one of the best performances by an Owls team in years ...
No, it was not a dream, though I know of fans who woke up yesterday and did wonder!
Did anyone see this coming? No chance. The Owls had been unable to make the desired signings in time for the game; the old enemy had brought in two and seemed dangerous after being wounded at Rochdale a week earlier.
But Wednesday went at them from the start and were superior in every respect until the end. Leeds were outfought, outplayed and humiliated. The Owls were steely, skilful and brimming with confidence.
What better way for Stuart Gray’s suitability for the manager’s job to be confirmed - if there had been any doubt?
Gray’s selection and tactics were spot-on and the players did him proud.
Switching back to 4-4-2, Wednesday dominated midfield, rendered the Leeds front three ineffective and found space around their three centre-backs. It was largely down to smart passing and movement - and of course much of the finishing was clinical.
Had all the Owls’ work in the final third been so perfect, the score would have been in double figures..
I find it hard to remember a game in which Chris Kirkland had so little to do.
Brian McDermott was forced to change his system at half-time, to 4-4-2 - lucky to be only two down, after Reda Johnson and Atdhe Nuhiu converted fine balls from the outstanding Kieran Lee, who also supplied a chance that Liam Palmer missed just before half-time.
We shall never know if McDermott’s change, taking off a centre-back and sending on Matt Smith as an extra striker, would have worked towards getting Leeds back in the game
But there was no reason to doubt Wednesday, in view of that impressive first half, and once Smith had been sent off only a couple of minutes after the restart and Connor Wickham had slammed home his eighth goal in 10 appearances, a few minutes later, the stuffing had been knocked out of the visitors.
At first I thought the red card was harsh, for Smith’s arm was down by his side when he caught Reda Johnson in the head. But he was late - the ball had gone.
Kirkland was certainly angered by the incident; Gray was unsure from his viewpoint. McDermott contended: “He’s just caught him, trying to make an honest challenge. I don’t think it was a booking, I’m completely sure they have to rescind that.”
Wednesday made thorough use of having the extra man and kept the pressure on. The deflection that took Chris Maguire’s free kick past a wrong-footed Paddy Kenny confirmed that it was not Leeds’ day.
At one point the Owls were knocking the ball around with ease, to shouts of “ole” from the crowd.
Gray took the opportunity to bring players off to keep them fresh for the replay against Macclesfield tomorrow - enter Caolan Lavery. The pronunciation of his name was in doubt - it is ‘Keelan’ and the ‘a’ in his surname is the same as in ‘cat’.
But his talent was obvious when he scampered through to clip home a shot off the inside of a post, and drive home arguably the best goal of the game, into the bottom corner.
Gray reflected: “It was probably a good time to bring him on (in the 65th minute), against 10 men; we’d put them under so much pressure that it was probably a tired back four.
“His second goal was fantastic.”
Lavery, who was recalled last week from his loan at Plymouth, said: “It gave me a bit of
confidence when they were willing to call me back and get me involved, even if it was because of injuries. I sort of thought I might be involved, but you never really know, so when I was named on the bench I kept saying to myself ‘you’ve got to do well’. I think I did.”
Gray rated his entire midfield foursome of Lee, Jose Semedo, Jacques Maghoma and Maguire as “outstanding”. He added: “We’ve just been a bit more solid, hard to break down. All I have done is to ask them to put a shift in. We gave the fans a lift with our energy and effort.
scored a couple, Atdhe, Reda, Connor and Chris Maguire have got goals; the passes from Kieran Lee for the first two goals were fantastic. We’ve got Semedo breaking things up - he’ll get a foot in, and a bit of quality from Kieran.”
In addition, in the immediate aftermath of the game, Gray replied with some understatement to the inevitable question about his future: “A good performance and a 6-0 win I would imagine will hopefully help me to get the job.”
Milan Mandaric told a TV interviewer: “Stuart is a good man and a good coach but it’s still not done. We’ll sit
down in the next few days and sort it out. I always knew we’d got good, talented players; today they showed it.”
So had Gray done enough to get the job?
“We’ll see about that,” said Mandaric. But he was smiling, and so were fans after a day that will live long in the memory.