Owls: The enJJoyment is back!

Sheffield Wednesday v Hartlepool....GOAL....Owls Tommy Miller scores the first goal from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time
Sheffield Wednesday v Hartlepool....GOAL....Owls Tommy Miller scores the first goal from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time
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On a day of good performances the assurance of Batth at the back stood out. Strong in the air and increasingly confident on the ball, the 20-year-old provided a solid base.

It has taken a while but the fun may just be starting to return to Hillsborough after Sheffield Wednesday picked up their third home win in a row on Saturday.

Sheffield Wednesday v Hartlepool....GOAL....Owls gary Madine hits home the second goal

Sheffield Wednesday v Hartlepool....GOAL....Owls gary Madine hits home the second goal

Okay, we’re not talking 1993 and Waddle, Hirst and Sheridan here, or other names that the young fans who follow the Owls will have heard of but never seen.

The signs are there though that a trip to Sheffield 6, at the moment, is about more than enduring 90 minutes of woe while you dutifully applaud your favourite team on to the pitch and then boo them off it.

Wednesday’s long-suffering supporters have had enough of that. Owls boss, and Wednesdayite, Gary Megson has had enough of it too.

It starts with the team. And with as comfortable a 2-0 win as you’re ever likely to see against a Hartlepool United side that was outplayed in every aspect, they couldn’t do much more.

Sheffield Wednesday v Hartlepool....Pools ex Owl Steven Haslam at full stretch to stop Jermaine Johnson

Sheffield Wednesday v Hartlepool....Pools ex Owl Steven Haslam at full stretch to stop Jermaine Johnson

Megson said it finally looked as though his players were beginning to enjoy the big stage that Hillsborough offers:

“I would think they have enjoyed it. I once had a conversation with Howard (former Owls manager Wilkinson) here about enjoying football games and for me it came from winning.

“At times, yes, you get on top and you can pass the ball around in the last 15 minutes and that is really enjoyable. “To get into that position there are a lot of things that you have to do, which aren’t particularly enjoyable - such as the hard work, the effort and competing.

“You have to do all those things to get into the position to enjoy yourself. If you ask the players today then they’d say they’ve enjoyed that.”

Sheffield Wednesday v Hartlepool....Owls Gary Madine celebrates his goal with Gary Teale.

Sheffield Wednesday v Hartlepool....Owls Gary Madine celebrates his goal with Gary Teale.

Wednesday were dominant from the kick-off. Attacking the Leppings Lane end the reunited hard-working duo of Tommy Miller and James O’Connor controlled the match despite Pools clogging the pitch with a five-man midfield.

Miller, who didn’t play last week at Brighton for contractual reasons, tweaked an ankle in the opening minutes but was still the most influential man on the pitch until he was replaced just before the hour by Darren Potter.

By then the damage had been done. Wednesday had impressed in the first half without reward until Neil Mellor did well to twist and turn into the penalty area after receiving a Lewis Buxton throw. Pools skipper Sam Collins came across, slid in and clearly brought Mellor down near the goalline.

Miller coolly sent former Barnsley stopper Scott Flinders the wrong way from the spot, drilling the ball to the keeper’s right side.

Until Miller broke the deadlock, the man most likely to thrill was mercurial winger Jermaine Johnson.

‘JJ’ excited the crowd every time he touched the ball, with one mazy run leading to a good save from Flinders midway through the first half.

Megson likes to keep Johnson close by to issue his orders. And when he switched Johnson from left to right to play in front of the dugout early in the second half it paid off immediately.

There looked to be little on as Johnson surged forward, evading the lunges of the Hartlepool defenders.

His pass found Gary Madine just inside the visitors’ penalty area and the former Carlisle frontman struck a sweet shot just inside the right-hand post. There were still 25 minutes to be played, but the match was over.

Sensing that his work was done for the day Johnson was withdrawn by a semi-amused Megson:

“I think we have a language problem, me and JJ,” he said. “I asked what was up and he said his calf was tight, then he goes in and says he was tired.”

The manager is clearly an admirer of Johnson’s talent. It comes with several caveats though:

“JJ has got to start shaking himself because I’m shouting all the time to get him on the ball. When he is, there’s no one better outside the top-flight never mind the divisio above us.

“But he doesn’t do it often enough, he doesn’t get back into position, he doesn’t run without the ball. He’s not bad in the air, he can finish but he doesn’t score enough goals.

“He’ll have issues with me but if he can add those things and keep the explosive ability with the ball then there is no one better outside the top flight.”

With both Johnson and Miller warming the bench Wednesday actually played some of their best stuff.

The ball was moved around quickly and with purpose. Full-backs Buxton and Jon Otsemobor gave width and penetration to the Owls forward play, which is a good sign for the wide-open spaces of Hillsborough.

Hartlepool rarely threatened and when they did the centre-half pairing of Rob Jones and Danny Batth quickly snuffed out the danger.

Batth grows in confidence with each senior start. Just 20 years old, he is strong in the air and benefitted from having the wily Jones alongside him. He is the sort of player who Megson could build a back four around next season.

For now the new boss is concentrating on getting through the current campaign. Fittingly, with snooker back in the city, he says it is mission accomplished:

“In terms of do I think we’re safe then mathematically we’re not, but I think teams will need snookers to get up to where we are. I didn’t think after the last two homes games we’d have a problem.

“We’ve now won three on the spin at home. We’ve scored eight goals and only conceded one, which was a fortunate goal.

“We’re improving. Once the season comes to an end we need players to remember what has got us these results.”

If the wins keep coming at home then the fans may remember what it used to be like to follow the Owls.

Let the good times roll … almost.

Manager’s View

Everyone is difficult to please. We have played at home after a bad result down at Brighton where they had a fantastic result. It was everything what Brighton wanted and was ‘spectacular’ at 2-0.

We come here today and win 2-0 and we’re not spectacular but we’re comfortable. Such is life; we have to put up with it. I think that is what life is like at a big club.

Today we have played at home; they have strung five across the middle of the park and made life difficult for us. We have kept a clean sheet, we’ve scored two, they’ve not had a shot and we’ve passed the ball at times really well.

When they went 4-4-2 we had a little bit more to play and I think we should have scored more goals. We had some really good opportunities to steady ourselves to score more.