GARY Megson has reminded his players that they are playing for their futures.
He made his point before Saturday’s game when safety was already practically in the bag.
The team then made mathematically sure by picking up a point.
But with three games left the Owls manager clearly believes that from individuals’ point of point there is everything to play for.
“Before we went out we said that, regardless of league position, we had just had some fantastic results for Sheffield Wednesday, and now we needed fantastic results not only for the club but also for individuals,” he said.
“There are a few players on loan who aren’t particularly sure of their futures; quite a few are coming out of contract so the same applies to them; and for the rest of the players we as a staff are looking to see if they’re the kind of players we need to go forward. So it’s important.”
Wednesday responded with a the sort of battling performance that has become more common from them in recent months.
Megson was probably right to observe: “Two months ago, I think we’d have lost that game.”
Like the previous week’s display against Hartlepool, this one was workmanlike and wholehearted, without hitting great heights.
The Owls made a shaky start against a team whose need was greater then theirs and who surged into a deserved early lead.
But Wednesday had the tenacity to make sure that they were back in the game well before half time, and on chances and possession in the second half a win would been a more fitting result.
Danny Batth - one of the on-loan players of whom Megson spoke - again looked a capable centre half. “We knew Walsall would come out fighting for their lives; we were ready for that,” he said.
“We didn’t start the quickest but we did everything we could to get get back in the game; we got the goal, and we could have won.
“This team has picked up in the last few weeks. We’re really enjoying our football now and getting better results.”
Like any loan player, Batth is unsure about his future, and his could be affected by whether or not his club, Wolves, win their fight to stay in the Premier League.
A place in the Molineux first team would obviously appeal to him. But he is keeping an open mind.
“It depends on the team managers, and Wolves are my club. I’ve had a great time here as well,” he said. “We’ll see. It’s not really down to me. I can only have so much input.
“I think I have found my feet, I’ve played in League One before [on loan for Colchester]. I think I’m starting to show now that I can really kick on.
“It’s always easier the second time around because you know what to expect.
“But no game is easy. When you’re playing for a big club like Sheffield Wednesday, there’s a lot of expectancy on your shoulders.”
Another player facing an uncertain future, Lewis Buxton, was a prominent figure at Walsall. It looked as if he could have cleared the far-post cross that was headed back across goal for Jon Macken to score, but the full-back was also a strong performer up and down the left flank.
His shot, following a pass by Gary Teale, forced the save from which Neil Mellor profited by hoisting home his 18th goal of the season. A second-half drive by the left-back brought another good stop.
Walsall boss and ex-Owls defender Dean Smith felt that the equaliser, in the 26th minute, was a turning point: “We made a great start. Their goal gave them a bit more belief. I thought 1-1 was a fair result.
“Gary Megson is not going to let them lie down, and they certainly didn’t lie down; they gave it a good go. They’re a big, strong, tough team to play against. But we opened them up at times.”
The best chances of the final hour were made by Wednesday. Crosses by Teale made a free header for Jon Otsemobor which he put wide and one for Gary Madine, who looked certain to score but nodded the ball downwards and saw it bounce up and over the bar.
Beforehand Megson boldly changed a winning side by bringing in Giles Coke for Jermaine Johnson on the right flank.
He explained: “I’ve only seen JJ start one game away and it was nowhere near the quality I’ve seen from him at Hillsborough. We changed it. It didn’t work. We keep looking.”
The decision was reversed at half-time but Walsall kept Johnson largely quiet in the second half. He lashed a shot into the crowd and headed a half-chance wide from a Teale cross.
Megson also explained the 80th-minute change that saw Reda Johnson take over from Rob Jones: “Rob was ill before the game. We just asked him to give us what he’d got.”
The Owls manager is likely to have considered changes against Swindon today to keep the team fresh for a second game in three days.
Nicky Weaver is back on contention - he was on the bench on Saturday after recovering from his groin injury, but Richard O’Donnell’s form during his run in the side has been good enough for him to keep his place.
Megson said: “Nicky is always going to be close [to starting] because of his quality. But you ask the goalkeeper to take crosses, keep a clean sheet and be part of us winning, which Richard has done; you can’t reward that with him being dropped.”
We had the majority of possession, and opportunities to work the goalkeeper more than we did.
We also had a lot of opportunities to get a quality ball in, and too often we didn’t miss the first man.
You could see their goal coming. We were talking before the game about starting on the front foot, getting the tempo, turning them and making sure we played our football in their last third; they did it to us.
They really had the momentum. It was a real soft goal, and they had one or two other efforts that were more down to our poor defending than their good attacking.
But after 15 minutes Lewis Buxton gave us a platform, and from that point I felt we were the stronger team.
It’s the best game Lewis has played since I’ve been here. He can run all day, he’s good in the air, he’s got decent ability, we just to get it out of him more than we do.
Two months ago I think we’d have lost that. We look resilient. Big, long balls from the back we handle a lot better. But I know we can do better in our crossing and finishing.