Sheffield Wednesday plan to be pitch perfect next season after £1million investment

Caolan Lavery
Caolan Lavery
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The much-maligned Hillsborough pitch has undisputedly hindered the Owls’ attempts to deliver entertaining and winning football in the second half of the 2014/15 season.

In recent months, managers, players, journalists and football supporters have heavily criticised the state of the playing surface.

Indeed, Wednesday have found themselves bogged down and unsure of the best style of play to adopt to get results in their own backyard.

Owls boss Stuart Gray also claimed the wretched surface caused Liam Palmer and Will Keane’s injuries against lowly Fulham.

However, Gray’s troops will not be able to use the pitch as an excuse next year as chairman Dejphon Chansiri has pledged to spend £1m on a brand new pitch.

Work is due to begin on the Hillsborough playing surface following the final home match of the Championship campaign versus Leeds United on April 25.

For Owls striker Caolan Lavery, he believes Chansiri’s investment will be money well spent.

“The pitch is not easy to play on,” he told The Star. “It doesn’t look that bad sitting in the stands but, when you are out there, it is difficult.

“You get bobbles when you least expect it so a new pitch will hopefully make a big difference with the way Stuart [Gray] likes and wants us to play.

“It has been nearly impossible for us to get the ball down so a new surface will help us in the long run pass the ball the way we like to.”

Home has not been where the heart is for Wednesday this term. In front of their long-suffering fans, Gray’s men have recorded a meagre four wins from 20 outings.

Lavery says the Owls squad are determined to finish on a positive note on their own turf, starting at home to fellow mid-table side Charlton Athletic tomorrow.

He said: “Our home form has not been amazing this term. It is something we want to turnaround so the remaining games at home are vital for us to push our way even further up the table.”

Nearly a month ago, Lavery was playing regular first-team football at Chesterfield, hitting three goals in eight appearances during a productive loan spell.

But Keane’s injury setback prompted Gray to recall the talented 22-year-old, who had agreed to remain at the Proact Stadium until the end of the campaign.

Since returning, Lavery has featured twice as a sub, bagging a crucial goal in the memorable South Yorkshire derby triumph over Rotherham United, and started up front in their last two fixtures. Gray selected the former Northern Ireland Under-21 international as the Owls’ lone striker in their disappointing 2-0 loss to high-flying Norwich City on Bank Holiday Monday.

“It was good to go out and play some games at Chesterfield, get my fitness back and show the gaffer I’m ready to comeback into Sheffield Wednesday’s team,” admitted Lavery. “It has been good to get back into the side in the last couple of games.

“It was difficult having a day’s less rest than Norwich but it’s no excuse. It was a tough game.

“Norwich are a good side and you can tell they are up there for a reason and I think we need to do better.

“Norwich outplayed us in most areas of the game. We have to defend better and take our chances. I know I should have at least hit the target with the chance I had in the second half but I was further out than people were saying I was.

“As a team, we have to defend better from the front and be more ruthless.”

Given Chesterfield played a big part in helping Lavery resurrect his stalled Owls career, it is hardly a surprise he hopes the Spireites join Wednesday in the second-tier of English football next term.

He said: “I don’t see any reason why they can’t go up. They are on a great run, have a great set of lads and got all the right things to get promoted.

“I texted the Chesterfield assistant [Leam Richardson] on Tuesday to wish them well done for the Easter period. They are in the play-off positions and it would be great for them to go up.”

With Keane edging closer to full fitness, Lavery is acutely aware competition for places in the forward department will hot up over the final five matches. Keane will battle Lavery, Atdhe Nuhiu, Stevie May and Sergiu Bus for a starting spot.

“There’s five of us fighting out for a couple of places up front so we’ve got healthy competition in that area,” acknowledged Lavery. “It is up to the gaffer who plays but I want to cement my place in the side.”