Sheffield Wednesday: ‘Club Builder’ who saw it end in ruins

Dave Jones was Sheffield Wednesday manager for 21 months
Dave Jones was Sheffield Wednesday manager for 21 months
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When Dave Jones arrived at Hillsborough he described himself as a builder of clubs.

He swiftly laid the foundations of a brighter future for the Owls by taking them to promotion.

His start was one of the best made by a Wednesday manager - 17 matches unbeaten after they went up from League One and began promisingly in the Championship.

But then the project stalled, with the demands of the higher level bringing two difficult seasons and his exit from Hillsborough, 21 months after his appointment.

The 57-old-year’s reign will go down as one of joyous elevation followed by unfulfilled promise. It has been frustrating time for him, as he tried to compete with clubs who have far bigger budgets.

But Milan Mandaric would argue that he did back his manager to a large extent. Perhaps the Owls still should have done better with whatever funds were available: they are the only club in the country to have won only one league game so far this season.

Over the last two seasons, Jones has signed many players who then did not play much, which led to some fans questioning his judgement,

Examples include Chris Maguire, who scored twice for League One side Coventry on Saturday after joining them on loan.

There have also been successes - for example, Anthony Gardner, who has been missed since he was injured, and Chris Kirkland, who was outstanding last season, though he has just lost his place.

Two successive relegation battles have tended to overshadow what Jones did achieve.

Taking over after the controversial sacking of Gary Megson, he credited his predecessor and counted himself fortunate to be inheriting a team who were third in the table.

Jones added two loan players, Nile Ranger and Keith Treacy, imposed his own playing style and turned a play-off challenge into automatic promotion with a run-in of 10 wins and two draws, crowned by promotion glory in front of 38,000 fans at a 2-0 last-day victory against Wycombe.

Twenty-eight wins was a club record for a season, as was the total of 93 points.

But not long into the Championship campaign came a seven-game span that brought only one point.

Two months later, in November of last year, came a run of seven successive defeats, in the middle of which Milan Mandaric expressed support for his manager.

The chairman was later to point out that his patience was vindicated. The team reaped 43 points from their final 25 games of the campaign, with Jones, backed by his chairman, using the loan market astutely.

The Owls had given themselves so much to do that their safety was confirmed only on the last day of the season, when they beat Middlesbrough 2-0.

On the eve of the current campaign, Jones claimed that the club were only two or three players short of being a promotion-challenging outfit.

Although some of the games have been close and have featured some decent performances, plus the exhilarating 5-2 victory against Reading, Wednesday have instead looked more like a relegation side, in terms of results, with flaws in finishing and defending.

They broke a 36-year-old club record by going 12 league games from the start of the season without a win.

Many expected the 2-1 defeat by Huddersfield to be the final straw. Mandaric, however, said he would be in charge for the Blackpool game. This appeared to indicate what might happen if the team lost again, at Bloomfield Road.

The situation was quite different to that which preceded Megson’s exit after victory in a Sheffield derby and a spell of two wins in 10 games before that. The relationship between Megson and Mandaric had broken down; the chairman had a solid one with Jones.

Jones publicly never complained about having to rely to a large extent on free transfers and loans. He pointed out that millions spent on players does not necessarily bring success, and was proud of rebuilding jobs done at his previous clubs, chiefly Cardiff, where he had to sell his best players but still three times took the club close to the Premier League, to an FA Cup Final and their highest league position in 38 years

Jones also led little Stockport to the second tier and the League Cup semi-finals, stabilised Southampton in the top flight and took Wolves there.

He argued against Hillsborough change, with the club having had nine managers in the last 12 years, and pointed out any new man would be working with the same players.

Mandaric clearly felt that he has stood by Jones as long he possibly could and drastic action was needed in an effort to avoid the disaster of relegation.