SOMETIMES it is not always possible to play ‘sexy football’, a phrase coined by ex-Chelsea manager Ruud Gullit many years ago.
Sometimes it is a case of going into enemy territory and getting the job done.
There was nothing spectacular or particularly beautiful about Sheffield Wednesday’s hard-fought victory at Notts County. But they did the business and that’s what matters at this stage of the season.
To put this win into context, Notts, sixth in the League One standings, had not lost at home since December 17, had gone six matches unbeaten under new manager Keith Curle and came into the fixture having comprehensively demolished the league leaders Charlton Athletic 4-2 at The Valley. This, on paper, seemed a tough assignment for the Owls and yet the team rose to the occasion.
The conservative 4-5-1 formation the Magpies adopted made it easier for the visitors but take nothing away from Dave Jones’s men, who showed plenty of grit and determination to nullify the hosts attacking weapons. Jeff Hughes, Alan Judge and Jonathan Forte are three dangerous players at this level and yet Wednesday kept them quiet for the majority of a tense, cagey affair.
Notts lacked the flair and imagination to break down a well organised Wednesday outfit, who restricted them to long-range efforts. And the Owls carried the greater threat on the break, with Michail Antonio causing havoc out wide and the front two also grafted hard up front. Ryan Lowe and Gary Madine have scored two each in their last three outings and are looking a potent strikeforce.
Apart from one or two scares in the dying minutes after ex-Owls loanee Lloyd Sam had pulled a goal back, Wednesday dominated the second period and deserved maximum points. The win leaves them level on points with Sheffield United in second spot ahead of tomorrow’s meeting with Walsall at Hillsborough but Jones is refusing to get carried away.
He insisted: “We can’t look at other results. We are playing catch up and we know that. We have got to keep plugging away and try to get as many points as we possibly can. Everybody in there [the dressing room] has got their feet on the ground. There is still a long, long way to go.”
“It has been a long time since I’ve been down in this division and it is different,” added Jones. “All I’ve told the players is to go out, relax and play your football. They have listened to what we are trying to do and they have done that.
“Every manager has a different style. There is no right or wrong way. It is whatever gets you the results. I have done management a long time. It is about getting the players enjoying it. When you are winning, it helps. If you are losing, it is always a problem.”
Having made Notts look distinctly ordinary, Wednesday took the initiative after the re-start and grabbed the opener after Antonio slalomed past three defenders before squaring the ball to Lowe, who tapped home from close range. Substitute Miguel Llera had a free-kick superbly kept out by Notts goalkeeper Stuart Nelson before top-scorer Madine turned smartly and rifled in the decisive second after a long throw-in from Lewis Buxton.
Jones said he was ‘disappointed’ with Wednesday’s defending for County’s consolation goal, as lax marking saw Sam hook in Judge’s free kick.
“I thought there was more to come from us at half-time and players produced,” he said. “They showed a lot of composure even when they scored. We kept our nerve and the ball away from our area.”
Apart from Sam’s sloppy strike, the Owls were solid as a defensive unit, despite losing Rob Jones to a neck problem in the 17th minute. Jones said the captain initially suffered the knock in the victory over Bournemouth. Rob Jones’s knock forced the visitors into a defensive reshuffle, with Llera coming on to partner Danny Batth.
Owls chief Jones hinted he would have left out Rob Jones from the starting line-up had Reda Johnson been available for selection but the Benin international suffered an injury in training on Friday, meaning he was not in the squad.
Jones said: “Rob is a big strong lad and wanted to play, but he tweaked his neck in the warm up.
“I have a lot of admiration for the big lad because he wants to play but sometimes you have to know your own body and don’t overdo it. Sometimes you’ve got to not be the hero. There are another load of fit players in there but that’s something players will learn as they go along.
“Rob tried it and unfortunately it didn’t work for him but Miguel [Llera] has come in and done fantastic.”
Jones also rubbished reports in a national newspaper over the weekend claiming Wednesday are on the verge of offering a short-term contract to one-time England international Robbie Fowler. The 36-year-old is currently a free agent, having recently rejected a move to Blackpool.
Jones, who has previously worked with Fowler at Cardiff, quipped: “I’ve not even been in contact with Robbie and if I speak to him it will be about a game of golf!”
Before the emergency loan window closes this Thursday, Jones has indicated he wants to bring in a couple of new additions to bolster the squad.
Right now, though, Wednesday are the form side of the division and you would not bet against them making it four wins out of four under Jones at Hillsborough tomorrow night.