‘Every week’s a small battle’ – Sheffield Wednesday promotion hero Miguel Llera talks Owls and Darren Moore’s challenge

Miguel Llera knows all about how to get promoted out of League One with Sheffield Wednesday…

Sunday, 24th April 2022, 6:26 pm

The big defender made almost 100 appearances for the Owls during his time with the club, but it was the first few months of his Wednesday career that he will probably be remembered best for.

Llera made the move from Blackpool to Sheffield midway through the 2011/12 campaign after spending the first half of the campaign with Brentford, and became an iconic figure with his head guard in the heart of the Owls backline.

The Spaniard was already in his thirties by the time he arrived at Hillsborough, and his experience stood out as he led from the back and scored four goals in the final eight games to secure a famous promotion that saw them leapfrog bitter rivals, Sheffield United, into second place.

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Automatic promotion is out of the picture for Darren Moore’s side now, but the former Owls defender sees similarities in the way their season is coming to a close.

“The team now is different to ours,” he told The Star. “But one thing is that we both had a good run towards the end of the season - that’s similar… They’ll be confident, and arrived to the last part of the season strong, just like we did.

Football is a small battle every week, you can’t be thinking about what will happen in two or three weeks time - you have to work game by game. There isn’t too much of a margin to make mistakes - so that’s why focusing on each game is the best thing to do.

Miguel Llera celebrates with Sheffield Wednesday fans after winning automatic promotion back into the Championship in 2012. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

“I think for us another big part of our success was the fans - because the players always knew that they had that extra man because of the fans. They’re amazing.

“Wednesday are one of the biggest teams in the league, and when they’re with you then you feel it on the pitch. You have an obligation to do your best and put the club in the Championship again.”

He recalls wins over Huddersfield Town and Brentford and a draw with Colchester United as pivotal moments – and insists that the fans helped see them through.

Llera said, “For us I think the Huddersfield game was important. We needed three points to eliminate them from the chase.

Miguel Llera celebrates with Sheffield Wednesday fans after winning automatic promotion back into the Championship in 2012. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

“But there was a couple of games that felt big. The Brentford one when we were losing and scored twice after, and there was also the draw at Colchester. Like I said, it’s the small battle wins that make you think you can do it.

Sheffield Wednesday is nothing without the fans. They wouldn’t be as big as they are without them.

“The players have to respect them and give everything. The minimum they should do is transfer that respect and passion onto the pitch. You have to give 200%.”

He recalls having leaders in the side in that 2011/12 season – players like himself and José Semedo and Reda Johnson who were able to force matters when required, and he sees it in the current group as well. From two players he knows well, as well.

“Sheffield Wednesday aren’t in the top two because they weren’t being consistent the whole season,” Llera says.

“The league is a long race, and the top two get promoted because they’ve had consistency - Wednesday haven’t had that.

“But I have a good relationship with Sam (Hutchinson) and Liam (Palmer), we still talk now, and after a tough couple of years I think that they truly deserve that moment of getting promoted.

“They’re both great professionals and give everything in every game, and they deserve to live a moment like we did in 2012. They deserve that moment with the club.

We had leaders, and now the squad, with players like Barry (Bannan) and Liam and Sam, it feels like everyone is going in the right direction. Hopefully they can get the success.”

But there will be no fairytale last-gasp automatic promotion this season, the defeat to Wycombe Wanderers put that to bed, but Play-Offs are still in Wednesday’s hands and Llera thinks Moore’s biggest job now is picking the players back up again.

“The main thing now is dealing with the frustration of not getting promoted automatically,” he explained. “The players will have still been hoping to do that, so missing out on that is a massive frustration and could lead to mistakes.

“But that’s the manager’s job to deal with that. They need momentum, and with the help of the fans hopefully we’ll see them in the Championship next season.”

He’s not the only one hoping that.

Photos of that promotion day in 2012 are up in houses around the city – my dad has a Pete McKee version up in the house – and it’s a day that so many Wednesdayites will never forget.

For Llera, he feels the same way. He just wanted to enjoy it.

“I wanted to enjoy it,” he recalls. “During my past I’d had a promotion in Spain, but I didn’t have too much success. I didn’t have too much luck.

“When I saw the full crowd at Hillsborough and the chance to get promoted, I said to myself that I should enjoy it.

“I didn’t want to go to the changing room, I wanted to stay out there with them and embrace it as much as I could.”