Petrol, Blackburn and a grinning Warnock: A night of reckoning lies ahead for Sheffield Wednesday
While the upper echelons of the football world run around doused in petrol and throwing a lighter between themselves, down the road there’s an old flame that has been slowly burning out for too long
And by the time Sheffield Wednesday supporters draw their curtains this evening, it may well be that their nine-year run in English football’s second tier is over.
If Wednesday lose their home clash with Blackburn Rovers this evening and Derby County beat Preston North End, the Owls will be consigned to League One for the third time since they were elbowed off the top table a generation ago.
There’d be a certain irony to the fact it was Blackburn. Though the conception of this desperate decline is generally dated to Boxing Day 2019 and an injury time meltdown at Stoke City, it could well be traced a little further back than that, to November 2 at Ewood Park.
Wednesday were weighing themselves up for a tilt at the playoffs and were awful on a cold, wet Lancashire afternoon, but took the lead through a close range Jacob Murphy goal in the 83rd minute. This, it was felt, was the sort of moment that great teams deliver; getting a result when not at their best.
For five minutes, the packed-out away end sang of being on their way and of being ‘Garry Monk’s barmy army’. How times changed.
And then Tosin Adarabioyo scored. And then John Buckley scored. And Wednesday lost.
That was the first time Monk touched on the mental fragility he would later passionately expand on at Wigan and Brentford.
It was the second match in a run of five without a win that saw Wednesday concede late to surrender points against Swansea and at West Brom and though they perked up considerably to rise to third by Christmas, that fragility was there, under itching the surface. And it grew and grew.
It may not be tonight. It may be that Wednesday are afforded the pleasure of being relegated by Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough on Saturday. Hell, it may be that the obituaries we’ve been writing for weeks are premature and they go on a four-match winning streak and survive and play it all off as the world’s longest prank.
But it’s doubtful. This fire needs restarting.