New boss blasts defending as defeat to Hill’s men has Wednesday flirting with the drop zone rather than heading for the play-offs
YOU could say that Wednesday face even more of an uphill task after going down at Dale.
Manager of the Month Keith Hill has a better chance of leading his Rochdale side to a top-six finish than the Owls have of hitting their promotion target, or so the statistics say.
Saturday’s lastest slip-up gave Wednesday a reality check. No-one is a bigger realist that Gary Megson.
He has never made rash promises and he pointed out on the day he took over that the club were fewer points away from the relegation places than from the top six.
Megson arrived with the knowledge that the priority was to tighten up the team’s defending but it has not been a simple matter.
As in the MK Dons game a week earlier, they were two down by the 28th minute against opposition who were lively, organised, hard-working and loving the chance to give the big boys a lesson .
Wednesday simply were outplayed by Dale in the first half, and always chasing the game after those two early goals.
Further similarities to the MK Dons game were strong words from the manager and a substitution at half time, and an improvement in the team’s general performance in the second half.
This time, though, the opposition still had 11 on the field, and the Owls could not find enough penetration or ruthlessness to make up a two-goal difference.
Megson started with a new system of 5-3-2, in an attempt to create more stability in central defence, but he fumed at the ease with which Rochdale repeatedly got in behind the left side of the backline.
Mark Reynolds was the left-side centre-back and Daniel Jones left-back. Right winger Nicky Adams was a real threat, and it was right-back Scott Wiseman who created the first goal.
Jones was left with two players coming at him. Wiseman went past him and delivered a fine ball from the byline. It looked as if Matt Done might have got a touch but TV showed that it was unquestionably an own goal by Mark Beevers, who three minutes earlier had hit the post with a header, after a Jones free-kick was cleared out to him.
Facing the Owls goal and stretching to try to intercept Wiseman’s cross, the recalled centre-back deflected it into the net.
Done’s 11th-minute arrival as a sub for ex-Owl Brian Barry-Murphy, who went off with a cut eye, was unfortunate for Wednesday because he made an impact in midfield, and won the undisputed penalty which left the Owls with a huge hill to climb.
From a short corner, Jones was outnumbered two to one, Neil Mellor rushed to try to help and succeeding only in bringing down Done - an indisputable penalty.
Megson reacted by switching to 4-4-2, with Reynolds at left-back and Jones on the left side of midfield - from where he made strong forward runs in the second half.
But Wednesday were chasing the gam. They were lucky not to go three down when Done narrowly failed to connect with a cross, and saw Clinton Morrison knock an opportunity at the keeper just before half time.
Again, substitutions improved the Owls in the second half. Gary Madine was a handful for the Dale defence, and would have scored in the 64th minute if a Buxton cross had not bobbled and run slightly behind him.
Isaiah Osbourne was strong in the tackle, composed on the ball, mobile, struck a fair volley from 20 yards and looked as if he could be a real asset for the challenges ahead.
Madine’s fine headed goal after a brilliant run by Buxton was little consolation for the Owls, as they suffered their sixth successive away league defeat - hardly an encouraging record as they now face another three on the road and stand uncomfortably close to the bottom four.
Megson knows that Tranmere tomorrow could be just as feisty as Rochdale were.
He reflected: “Reading the Rochdale manager’s comments before the game, we are seen as the biggest game of the season.
“We talked about that before the game. If we can match them [Rochdale] in terms of their effort, desire and drive, then hopefully the quality our players are supposed to have will come through. It didn’t happen.”
Bright spots were the performances of Madine and Osbourne. Megson acknowledged: “They did excellent, but we’re getting really good performances from the subs, once they’ve heard what goes on a half-time.
“Gary Madine didn’t do that last week against MK Dons. Today, He was terrific. He won near enough every header, he’s got his goal, he’s enabled us to play at the right end of the pitch.
“Isaiah Osbourne, we know about his quality, from the level he’s come from. He’s got drive and the willingness to use his physical attributes.
“I’ve told them they’ll play on Tuesday. Once they get in there and do well, they’ll play, but other people can’t keep telling us what they can do and then not showing us the same things.”
He believes the Owls must show more steel: “The centre-halves couldn’t win a header. We weren’t first to the ball. We weren’t physical enough.
“If you’re going to get relegated [from the Championship], you’d better make sure you’re prepared for what’s coming up from the next level. It’s about running, desire, being physical and competing.
“They’ve done that better than us.”
The first half was totally unacceptable. We’d spoken about how we can’t afford to give them a two-goal start, can’t afford to be on the back foot, but that’s what we did.
Before their goal we were doing all right; we hit the post before they scored. The first opportunity they get to get behind us, we concede a poxy goal.
We worked on defending set-pieces on Thursday and Friday. Today [for the second goal] somebody abdicated responsibility, got caught and we conceded that kind of goal.
We have the best goalkeeper at this level, and we’ve been beaten by an own goal and a penalty. We have to stop doing this.
I can’t keep going in at half-time getting really upset and making changes all the time, and yet in the second half we forced eight corners, had seven shots, and we scored, all of which we didn’t do in the first half.
So we’re capable of doing it.